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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Several lumps of Mars and the biggest piece of the Moon ever offered for sale were unveiled on Sunday in New York in what organizers described as history's largest meteorite auction.
More than 125 meteorites were being auctioned in the private sale, including an iron meteorite resembling a howling face that was found in the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa and a slice of the Willamette meteorite from the American Museum of Natural History, estimated to sell for at least $85,000. The 4-pound (1.8-kg) Moon rock was expected to go for more than $340,000.
"We cover a very, very wide spectrum of material," said Darryl Pitt, the meteorite consultant for Heritage Auctions, which is conducting the sale.
Some pieces were expected to be available for just a few hundred dollars.
"We wanted to make certain there's something for everyone. We want to be egalitarian when we're offering outer space," Pitt told Reuters.
Meteorites are priced for their size, rarity, beauty and provenance -- buyers are typically willing to pay more for bits of rock or iron known to have originated on the Moon or Mars. Lunar meteorites are particularly rare, he said, with only about 135 pounds (61.2 kg) of the rock known to exist on Earth.
"It is the oldest material mankind can touch, the raw ingredients of the planets," Pitt said in describing the appeal of collecting meteorites.
Other lots for sale included a large fragment of the Tissint meteorite of Martian origin that fell only last year in Morocco and a chunk of the Peekskill meteorite that was caught on video cameras 20 years ago burning through the sky before smacking into a Chevy Malibu parked in the town about 50 miles north of New York City.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Osterman