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Meteorite Fragments Are A Boon For Residents In Brazilian Town

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All right. So life right now can seem like a crazy science fiction movie, yet there is a small town in Brazil where even stranger things are happening thanks to a cosmic event deep in the countryside. NPR's Philip Reeves has the story.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: It happened on a Wednesday morning. The sun was shining. The people of Santa Filomena were quietly going about their business. Suddenly, there was a bang.

LORRAN CRUZ: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "It was like an explosion," says Lorran Cruz (ph), who lives there. "Maybe that's a plane," he thought. Then, rocks started raining down.

CRUZ: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: One landed right next to Cruz's feet. It was small, black and came from space. Cruz makes his living installing the Internet when he can find someone who will pay him. He had no trouble finding a customer for his little black rock.

CRUZ: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: He says he's already sold it for the equivalent of more than $1,000. That's more than he earns in six months, he says.

Santa Filomena is a remote farming town in northeast Brazil. It grows beans. There's a big Catholic church in the square. People are poor. Life is quiet - at least it was until two weeks ago. That's when hundreds of rock fragments, so-called chondrites, thought to be 4 1/2 billion years old fell from the skies.

ANTONIO CARLOS MIRANDA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "These have incalculable scientific value," says Antonio Carlos Miranda, professor of physics at the Rural Federal University in Pernambuco. "They're like dinosaur bones," he says. "They help explain the origins of the planet."

Often, these fragments burn up before reaching the ground. Miranda calls those that make it here fossils from the solar system. Many people in Santa Filomena have been staying home recently. No one wants COVID. After the meteorites landed, people didn't seem so worried.

LEANDRO BENICIO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Everyone in town is out searching for rocks," says Leandro Benicio, a civil servant who lives in the area. He says it's like a race. News of the meteorites spread within hours. People posted videos of themselves on social media searching the countryside. Santa Filomena only has one guesthouse, which doubles as the gas station. It quickly filled up.

BENICIO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "People have come from the U.S., Uruguay, Costa Rica and from across Brazil," says Benicio. "They know you can make good money selling these rocks to research institutes, museums or collectors."

The biggest found so far in Santa Filomena weighs nearly 90 pounds. It's reckoned to be worth at least $20,000 and is now reportedly under police guard. Since that first small black space rock landed at his feet that day, Lorran Cruz, the Internet guy, has found four more.

CRUZ: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: He says he's made enough money to fulfill his dream of building a family home. To him, this amazing stroke of good fortune in the middle of a pandemic isn't about science.

CRUZ: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "It's a gift from God," says Cruz.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE COMET IS COMING'S "UNITY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.