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Space RockHound

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After years of searching and several thousand misses, 13-year-old Jansen Lyons finally found his first meteorite — and the first one for Rio Rancho, too.

Lyons, a tenacious and fast-talking teen who lives in Rio Rancho, found the space rock in September of last year, but it wasn’t until last week that experts at the University of New Mexico’s Institute of Meteoritics confirmed its authenticity — and described the find as “extraordinary.”

The 2-pound meteorite, an “L6 ordinary chondrite,” had been on the ground for about 10,000 years, institute director Carl Agee said. It’s the first to be found in Rio Rancho.

The confirmation of Lyons’ suspicion was “exciting, to say the least,” he said.

“I didn’t really know what to say except for yelling and hurraying,” Lyons said. “The entire house lit up in screams.”

Lyons, who is home-schooled, developed an interest — some would call it an obsession — in meteorites in 2008 after reading a book that belonged to his brother.

Since then, he’s learned a dizzying amount of information, his mother, Christine Lyons, said.

She said her son’s discovery is no coincidence.

“It’s a testament to his hard work,” she said. “I would definitely describe him as persistent and dedicated, even when we’ve all had our ears chopped off about meteorites.”

Lyons’ fascination escalated so much his grandfather eventually designed and built him a metal detector to assist in his searches. The boy now has three metal detectors.

“I’ve turned over every single rock in our backyard several times,” Lyons said.

He said he’s collected several thousand “meteor-wrongs,” or rocks that turn out to be just that.

But when he found the meteorite last year at a location the family does not want to disclose, he knew he had something special. The rock, called Rio Rancho because meteorites are traditionally named after the places where they are found, has a unique fusion crust. Its dark black coating was another sign.

Meteorites are remnants of asteroids or sometimes comets that fall from the sky onto Earth’s surface. The one Lyons found is the second-most common type and is composed in part of nickel-iron metal.

Lyons didn’t know UNM had its own museum of meteorites, so he wasn’t sure how to go about verifying his find.

Finally, his mother learned about the university’s museum, which Agee also curates. But yet another obstacle: The museum has been closed for several months while a new security system is installed after the high-profile theft of a large meteorite.

Nonetheless, the museum agreed to a private tour. Lyons brought along the rock and asked their guide, an administrative assistant, to take a look.

She doubted it was an actual meteorite. After all, the museum gets emails and calls at least once a week about suspected meteorites, and they’re never the real thing. The last time a meteorite was found in New Mexico was about seven years ago.

Lyons was resolute.

“Earlier that day I promised my mom that if anyone tried to say it’s not a meteorite, I was going to prove them wrong,” he said.

The museum agreed to test and analyze the rock, and within a few hours, after the Lyonses had gotten home, they got the call. The Meteoritical Society is now in the process of officially classifying it, Agee said.

Agee said Lyons’ find is “quite extraordinary.”

“I have never found a meteorite myself. It’s hard to find a gold nugget,” he said.

Lyons is keeping the meteorite, although a small chunk will be displayed at the museum.

“I think it’d be a really great shame to sell it,” he said.

Added his mother: “It’s beyond value. You couldn’t put a price on it.”

For Lyons, this is the part of a lifelong adventure.

“I’m excited because now that I know what I’m looking for, I can find a lot more. A lot, lot more,” he said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal