Deputatskoye, Russia: Ever since the meteor exploded somewhere over this impoverished Siberian town, Larisa V. Briyukova wondered what to do with the fist-size stone she found under a hole in the roof tiles of her woodshed.
On Monday, a stranger knocked on her door, offering about $60, Briyukova said. After some haggling, they settled on a price of $230.
A few hours later, another man pulled up, looked at the hole in the roof and offered $1,300.
"Now I regret selling it," said Briyukova, a 43-year-old homemaker. "But then, who knows? The police might have come and taken it away anyway."
On Friday, terror rained from the skies, blowing out windows and scaring people over an enormous swath of Siberia. But by Monday, for many people what fell from the sky had turned to pure gold, and it touched off a rush to retrieve the fragments, many buried in deep February snows.
Many of those out prospecting looked a lot like Sasha Zarezina, 8, who happily plunged into a snowbank here in this village of 1,000, laughing, kicking and throwing up plumes of powdery snow.
Then she stopped, bent over and started to dig. "I found one!" she yelled.
A warm breath and a rub on her pants later, a small black pebble, oval like a river rock, charred and smooth, was freed of ice.
While trade in material from meteorites is largely illegal, there is a flourishing global market, with fragments widely available for sale on the Internet, usually at modest prices. At least one from the recent meteor was available on eBay on Monday for $32, and there is a website called Star-bits.com devoted to the trade - much to the displeasure of scientists and the countries where the objects were found.
Early on, NASA reported that the meteor, the largest known celestial body to enter Earth's atmosphere in 100 years, was an airburst fireball type that would shower untold thousands of fragments onto the surface.
In the scramble now under way to find them, residents of towns like this one - founded in the 1920s around a collective dairy farm that is now defunct - are looking for small holes in the snow that hold the promise of yielding up polished black rocks encased in tiny clumps of ice, formed from the last expiring heat of their long journey.
"All it takes is looking carefully," said Sasha, who was out searching after school on Monday. "The stones are in the snowdrifts. To find a stone you find a hole. And then you dig."
Villagers here have plastic bags, matchboxes and jars filled with dozens of stones. One even tore a hole in the coat one woman was wearing outside Friday morning.
But this is Russia, so the excitement became tinged with anxiety on Monday as unknown cars appeared, cruising the streets and bearing men who refused to answer questions but offered stacks of rubles worth hundreds, then thousands, of dollars for the fragments. Strangely, no authorities were anywhere in sight.
M3-Media, a financial news site, reported that under Russian law a person can gain legal title to a meteorite, but only if it is reported to the authorities and submitted to a laboratory for tests. The laboratory will charge 20 percent of the estimated value of the object for certification, the site reported, citing the Russian Academy of Sciences.
In practice, though, the search for remnants of the meteor has become a haphazard, unregulated scramble, wholly lacking coordinated effort or scientific oversight in the collection of specimens from one of the most significant events in years for the community of scientists who study such things.
"We don't have a mechanism to prevent this from happening," said Victor Grokhovsky, an assistant professor of metallurgy at Southern Ural Federal University, one of the scientists who made the positive identification of meteorites on Monday.
Law enforcement agencies actually blocked scientists from visiting a suspected impact site on Lake Chebarkul over the weekend, Grokhovsky said. Yet here at Deputatskoye, where the first scientific expedition is planned for Tuesday, not a police officer was in sight.
"We send up spaceships to asteroids to obtain this material, at great expense, and here it flew right to us," he said. "It would be nice if the government coordinated with us, the scientists. When we want to be somewhere, they won't let us near. When we want them to be somewhere, they are nowhere to be found."
The fragments landed in a social landscape of distrust of authorities, where police corruption is widespread.
With word of the rising prices rippling through the village, some women, looking with piercing, paranoid eyes at strangers, refused to speak about what their children might have found. Others expressed fear that the police would confiscate the stones - and in turn sell them.
"Nobody knows anything; nobody says anything," one said.
Another said, unconvincingly, "We threw our stones away."
The intact meteor, estimated by NASA to weigh about 7,000 tons, bore immense energy as it entered the atmosphere over Alaska. It was the largest source of infrasound waves - low-frequency waves of pressure - ever recorded by a system set up globally to monitor compliance with the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
But after the meteor exploded, the small bits of debris slowed to terminal velocity, about the speed of a piece of gravel dropped from a skyscraper. Such remnants would not create craters on touchdown.
All about, tracks meander through the deep snow, ending at tiny excavations two or three feet deep.
"They fell everywhere in the village,"Alfia N. Zharkova, a mother of two, who has a plastic bag filled with black stones, said in an interview in her kitchen. "The children find them. Everybody who has children has piles of these."
She found one Friday. "I went out to feed the cow and I see a hole in the ice," Zharkova said. "And there's a stone in the hole. So I just reach down and pick it up."
A neighbor, Alexandra Gerasimova, a 61-year-old retired milkmaid, said a meteorite tore a hole in her coat, which she displayed Monday. She was wearing it on Friday when she stepped outside to investigate the flash in the sky.
"I was standing with my husband, and some of it fell on us," Gerasimova said. "This rock fell down and into my jacket. I felt it hit me. I looked up, and there was nothing above me, not a bird, nothing. Imagine how frightened I was."
On Monday, two men, apparently speculators, showed up at her house and offered to buy her stone.
"I didn't open the door," she said. "Why should I sell it? I have a grandson I will give it to."
When the school bus pulled up Monday afternoon, children shot out and scattered over the snowy fields.
After Sasha, a boisterous girl in a maroon jacket and tan checkered pants, found the small pebble in the snow, she said she intended to "save it for my own children," but quickly reconsidered. "I will sell it for 100 million euros."
"Now I have snow in my boot," the little Russian girl confessed, but added: "I'm used to the cold. I like the cold. I grew up in the cold.
"I don't mind it at all."
© 2013, The New York Times News Service