Meteorite hunters risk prison, even death, to find money from the sky – rare space rocks that are older than earth itself. By Chris Raymond

For 13 days in 2011, Michael Farmer and Robert Ward combed the southern desert of Oman, seeking treasure in the sands of Dhofar. The pair were not on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula to hunt for gold, gems or fossils. They were there for meteorites.

Oman’s untouched landscape, monotone taupe background and arid climate make for ideal hunting conditions. The trip was proving to be particularly successful – Farmer claimed a find that had once rested on the Moon. He knew a collector who would want it, so he called from the field to arrange a R450 000 sale. For his part, Ward found a watermelon-size specimen, weighing nearly 45 kg, that could easily be worth R600 000.

Then, on the 14th day of the trip, the two Americans were stopped at a roadblock on a mountain pass near Adam. Omani soldiers armed with M16s pulled them from their vehicles and started rifling through their belongings. “When they found that big rock of Robert’s, they really went nuts,” Farmer says. “The next thing I knew, we were handcuffed together and thrown in the back of a truck.”

Read more in PM’s December 2013 – on sale 18 November.