An extremely rare lunar meteorite -- comprised of six fragments that fit together like a puzzle -- has been sold for USD 612,500, according to US-based RR Auction.
The meteorite is classified as NWA 11789, lunar feldspathic breccia, unofficially known as 'Buagaba' or 'The Moon Puzzle.'
Discovered last year, it was blasted off the surface of the Moon in the distant past, likely by the impact of a different meteorite.
It then journeyed the quarter-million miles to Earth and -- against all odds -- survived a fiery descent through the atmosphere to be found in the deserts of Northwest Africa.
It is comprised of six fragments that fit together, puzzle-like, to form a mass weighing very nearly 5.5 kg. With partial fusion crust visible on one side, it is a brand new classification and the largest known, complete lunar puzzle.
According to RR Auction, it is one of the most important meteorites available for acquisition anywhere in the world today and, perhaps, the most significant example of our nearest celestial neighbour ever offered for sale in the history of meteorite science.
"The winning bid came from a representative working with the Tam Chuc Pagoda Complex, located in Ha Nam Province, Vietnam," representatives at RR Auction said in a statement.
"We are extremely happy and thrilled that this magnificent lunar meteorite will be proudly displayed at this beautiful facility -- and this "Moon Puzzle" will certainly inspire students of science for generations to come," they said.
When meteorites are discovered in remote areas of the Northwest African deserts, far from settlement or known geographic features, they are frequently given this type of numerical designation by academia.
Sometimes, nomads or meteorite hunters find additional examples of an existing NWA meteorite at a later date. The subsequent finds may be examined and classified by a different expert and given a new name or number.
It is sometimes discovered, therefore, by researchers that there are two or more examples of the same meteorite known to science, but with different numbers. In such cases they become known as 'paired.'
For example, NWA 2998 is paired with NWA 7262, meaning they are both likely examples of the same meteorite fall, but recovered at different times.
A unique or 'unpaired' meteorite is more desirable to collectors and perhaps more valuable to science, especially in those rare instances in which the single find is a very large stone.
Such is the case with Buagba, or NWA 11789: it has no known pairings, and is the only example of this meteorite.
Considering that the average size of a lunar meteorite find is a few hundred grammes, the magnitude of this offering is truly impressive, according to RR Auction.