Explorer Finds Treasures From Space


Marvin Killgore has never seen an "Indiana Jones" movie.

Probably because he's been too busy living the life of Indiana Jones.

There are differences between the two adventurers, however.

For one thing, Indiana Jones wears a battered fedora, and Killgore wears a decidedly unbattered cowboy hat.

For another, Killgore, unlike Indy, doesn't travel the world scouring exotic locales for the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail. He travels the world scouring exotic locales for meteorites from his home base in Payson.

"To find something that nobody else has seen is a pretty incredible thing," Killgore said, explaining his passion for rocks from outer space. "That is exciting to me. This is a brand-new science. There are so many things that haven't been learned yet, so many things that haven't been seen or touched. And all of the meteors that have been found on earth are only the tip of the iceburg."

Many of those meteors found on earth were discovered by Killgore himself, who estimates that he's picked up "around 10,000" of them ranging in weight from less than a gram to 75 pounds. While his archeo-astronomy began in 1990 just a few miles outside of Payson, it has since expanded to sites as far away as Italy, Japan and Africa.

"We're meteorite collectors," Killgore said of his international business, the Southwest Meteorite Laboratory, "and we collaborate with a lot of universities and people from NASA on research projects involving planetary science, the formation of planets and meteorites, and things like that."

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How on earth does one get into this line of work?

"Usually people go to college and take physics and planetary geology," he said with a grin which announces that he is an exception to the rule. "I was in the plumbing business, and I had an interest in mining so I had a little bit of knowledge about geology and chemistry. So when I got interested in meteorites, I found out that a lot of the knowledge that I had kind of transferred into that area."

The turnabout occurred 11 years ago when Killgore, a full-time resident of Payson since 1980, was scouring the Rim country with a metal detector and finding "just enough gold to pay the bills during the slow months of my plumbing business." One of his gold buyers suggested he search for meteorites, he gave it a try, and was hooked.

Since then, he's found plenty of people at mineral, rock and gem shows who buy them, whole or sectioned, along with "all kinds of terrestrial rocks" he finds and sells.

When you study meteorites Killgore said, "you're sampling the cores of other planets, the mantles and the crusts everything from the very outside to its very center. We've got pieces of the moon and of Mars that are very distinct pieces that have been blasted to Earth by a big meteor impact, that floated around in space for thousands of years until they finally came close enough to fall to the Earth."

Asked to recall his single most exciting find, Killgore shrugs.

"I've had quite a few," he said. "I've found vugs holes made by gas bubbles in meteorites that are not supposed to exist. I've found different kinds of silicates that weren't supposed to be there because they just don't happen.

"Last year I worked on a rock that was blasted off the moon and landed in Africa. When I started working on it, most of the so-called lunar experts, from universities to NASA, said, 'Forget it. It's not from the moon.' The exception was one guy at NASA who said, 'Hey, I think you've got something there.' That gave me enough energy to say, 'Let's work on this.'

"Well, between NASA, myself, and some researchers in Germany and Hawaii, we proved that this actually was a rock from the moon that had never been seen by man. The only thing similar to it has been microscopic inclusions in some of the rocks they brought back from the Apollo missions.

"Now THAT was exciting," Killgore said with a deeply satisfied grin very reminiscent of the one that crossed Indiana Jones' face when he first laid eyes on the Ark of the Covenant.

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