In the remote high plains of Peru, a red-hot chunk of rock plummeted from the heavens, making landfall with a tremendous blast. Half a world away, meteorite hunters like Robert Ward (above) got word and rushed to get a piece of the action. Then things got weird.

Jake Naughton

Author: Joshuah Bearman, Allison KeeleyJoshuah Bearman and Allison Keeley

The Mad Scramble to Claim the World’s Most Coveted Meteorite

On the morning of September 15, 2007, station I08BO—an infrasound monitoring post for the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty near La Paz, Bolivia—picked up a series of atmospheric vibrations. It was an explosion at very high altitude, and there was something streaking across the sky, heading southwest at 27,000 mph. 

A few minutes later, at about 11:45 am, a brilliant fireball flashed over Carancas, a tiny village at 12,000 feet in Peru’s remote altiplano, a high plain bounded by the Andes. For those on the ground, this celestial visitor was the brightest thing anyone had ever seen in the sky.

A local radio host witnessed the blaze descend behind a hilltop statue of Jesus and rushed to his station to announce the arrival of a UFO. One villager saw the smoky trail and figured it must be Superman. Someone else saw a scorpion falling; he thought it was an antahualla, a mythical creature in local lore that soars from mountaintop to mountaintop at night, cloaked in light, menacing those below…