Chasing fireballs in the sky

2014-01-30T00:00:00Z 2014-07-03T12:18:34Z Chasing fireballs in the skyBy Johanna Willett Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Michael Farmer’s pursuit of meteorites takes him across the globe, often into the unknown.

A report of a fireball in the sky can launch him overseas in an instant.

His passion started at the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase in the ’90s. Now he sells his finds out of Tucson using his website meteoriteguy.com.

Farmer spends four to five months a year overseas, tracking rocks that fall from the sky. He estimates that he has flown around 4 million miles on American Airlines, and has traveled to Africa more than 65 times.

“I can’t imagine working in a cubicle,” said Farmer, 41. “I like to climb around in the Egyptian pyramids and pick my way through minefields in Mauritania. I’ve driven up on bombs in the Middle East and said, ‘OK, we have to turn around.’ I enjoy that. It makes life worth living.”

Oman, on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula, is a favorite meteorite-hunting spot. Farmer has been there more than 20 times, finding hundreds of meteorites in the country.

In 2011, Farmer said, he was arrested and accused of illegal mining operations. After six months in prison, he won his appeal.

“I was just picking up rocks off the surface,” Farmer said. “I was released because we had no mining equipment. If you don’t have any equipment, you’re not mining.”

That same year, a band of robbers in Kenya nearly killed him, his guide and his driver. Off the tourist circuit and obviously toting money to buy meteorites, Farmer made a prime target. He was forced to his knees, a machete held at his throat. The others were beaten and stuffed into a car trunk.

He gave the robbers everything, and finally they released the group. His wife had come on that trip for a safari, but that day she felt sick and stayed behind. As a kid, he dreamed of treasure hunts and running from angry native peoples, inspired by the “Indiana Jones” films.

Farmer found his first meteorites as a University of Arizona student checking out the gem showcase.

At that show, he found someone who had purchased a mineral collection, but did not want the meteorites. A friend loaned him $4,000 to buy the box of meteorites, and Farmer sold them and made four times what he spent.

“My wife thought I was absolutely insane,” he said. “I went crazy and started buying every meteorite I could get, and then I started chasing them and had a few successes. I like the travel and the adventure, and what better job than to travel to Africa at a moment’s notice.”

With a baby on the way this year, he is headed into uncharted territory once more.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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