“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done” – Hartford Courant

Roberto Vargas, 37, said his parents and sisters thought he was “crazy” when he dropped everything in April 2019 to fly to Costa Rica to search for meteorites after a fall from the sky was reported on social media. But he proved them wrong.

Although Vargas, a Hartford resident, couldn’t find any pieces of the so-called “Aguas Zarcas” drop, he bought some from locals, resold them when he got home, and made $40,000. . He paid off his car, his credit cards, and he had more to spend.

For Vargas, meteor hunting was just a fascinating pastime. For about a year and a half now, it’s been his full-time career after quitting his stable, well-paying job as a mental health therapist to pursue his passion.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I feel like I’m on the cutting edge of science,” he said. “I miss the feeling of being of service to people, but I can always do it on a voluntary basis.”

Vargas is one of a handful of full-time meteor hunters in the country, he said.

A meteorite or “space rock” is part of a meteor that has passed through the Earth’s atmosphere and hit the ground. Most meteorites contain rock, iron and nickel and other elements and at the high end can sell for over a million dollars depending on their size and content.

When news of a fall breaks anywhere in the world, Vargas is ready to go – time is running out as other hunters will also converge.

On September 27, as he was about to ride the Big E Ferris wheel, news of a fall in Junction City, Georgia, the day before, hit Facebook. On September 28, he was on the ground in Georgia looking for meteorites. At this fall, Vargas found a 24.7g meteorite and purchased the main mass or largest piece intact.

“You never know when something is going to fall, but when it does you have to go,” he said. “Since meteorites are kind of the only thing you do, you’re set.”

Since 2018, Vargas has participated in a dozen hunts, including those in Costa Rica, Brazil, Canada, Missouri, New York, Arizona, Utah and Georgia.

There is no part of the world where meteorites are more likely to fall, he said, but they are more likely to be in northwest Africa because dry weather conditions have allowed fallen meteorites to survive. The meteorite collecting trade is well established there, he said.

Vargas’ mother, Helena Vargas, said she and Roberto’s father urged him to take the stable route and keep his more traditional, high-paying job, rather than a job that “depends on something that fell from the sky”.

“But he wanted to pursue his dreams, so we supported him,” said Helena Vargas.

Now she’s feasting on the stories of her searches – mile-long treks in the scorching sun – and she and her husband are saving a piece of every hunt.

“He has so much enthusiasm that you can’t help but be drawn in,” she said. “It is not easy [work].”

Roberto Vargas’ collection contains approximately 560 specimens. Meteorites are fascinating, he said, because they are between 4.5 and 4.6 billion years old, with some containing grains (materials) older than the sun.

“They have great scientific value,” he said.

The favorite in his collection is one that was born on Mars and fell on his birthday in 2011. Martian meteorites, as well as the lunar type, are rare, he said.

“It floated in space for hundreds of millions of years and fell to earth on July 18, 2011,” he said.

He recovers the coins where they have fallen or buys and resells the coins to collectors, museums and other institutions. He sells them at gem and mineral shows. Meteorites are verified in universities.

There are witness falls where people see a fireball burning through the atmosphere – the chances of seeing one in person are pretty rare – but Vargas, a board member of the International Meteorite Collector’s Association , watched many videos.

Vargas owns a Meteorite of the Month business with friend and meteor enthusiast Mark Lyon, 42, of Arizona. For $50 a month, subscribers receive a piece of meteorite. Lyon said his company currently has about 40 subscribers.

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“It’s expanding,” Lyon said of the venture. “Why not be interested in something from outer space? It brings back the child in you.

Lyon said Roberto Vargas had an advantage due to his ability to leave at any time, his vast knowledge and his ability to calculate where pieces may have fallen during a hunt.

“He’s unique because he really tries to bring the group and the community together,” while most meteor hunters tend to be “lone wolves,” Lyon said, “he’s very collaborative.”

Roberto Vargas said he had always been into fossils, rocks and minerals, but was unfamiliar with meteorites until he was introduced to them about five years ago by a friend and hobbyist of meteorites, Chris Allen, 42, of Clinton.

“He’s a great guy,” Allen said of Vargas. “He was doing his job well in Hartford and he has already done well [in the meteorite business].”

So what do most people think of his unusual full-time career?

“I think most people feel like I’m unemployed because it’s not a traditional way of making money,” Vargas said. “It can be mistaken for a hobby.”