SOME of his meteorites
turn out to be 'meteor-wrongs'.
Far from being exciting lumps of space rock, a closer
inspection reveals they are camel droppings.
Dr Cornelis Baaijens is a meteorite hunter who
scours the Arabian desert for extraterrestrial rocks.
It is easier to find dark rocks in the
But since every dark object in the desert is worth a second look, he has even picked up
dried camel dung instead of meteorites.
'Sometimes, I collect
'meteor-wrongs' for my friends as souvenirs,' he said, laughing.
While on expeditions, Dr
Baaijens, 45, also provides medical supplies to desert nomads.
He was born in the
Netherlands, and took a doctorate in Arabic at age of 18.
He was at one time the youngest
captain in the Dutch army and served as an interpreter in Lebanon.
Last month, he was at the
Singapore Science Centre (SSC) for a meteorite exhibition. He said: 'Meteorite hunting is
multidisciplinary. You need chemists, physicists, biologists, and others.
'But you need
generalists too. I'm a generalist. I think it's better to be a generalist, because you get variety and
excitement in your work.'
So how does he know that something he picks up is a
By size and weight.
Meteorites have a higher density than earth rocks.
Baaijens decided to venture into meteorite hunting when he was working in public relations in
Philips Electronics in the Middle East.
He said: 'Knowledge of Arabic helped me to
communicate with the nomads.'
The Southwest Meteorite Laboratory in the US helps to fund
Each trip costs a few thousand dollars, but a meteorite can fetch a few hundred
He said that on an average, he makes one find every two trips.
As a boy, he kept
a collection of meteorites and fossils.
It began when he chanced upon a small fossil shell on a
riverbank in his hometown in Holland when he was just 4.
Today, his interests go beyond
these. He tries to help the nomads - as many of them as possible.
He recounted an interesting
One old lady in a group of nomads to whom he had given some medical supplies,
started shouting: 'I have pain in my foot, pain in my foot!' Clearly, she was trying to get more of
the supplies from him.
'I took a look, and told her I had no choice but to amputate
immediately,' Dr Baaijens said.
She kept quiet after that.
He doesn't blame her for trying
that. 'These people rarely see us and it's a rare chance for them to get hold of medical supplies,' he
said. 'They depend on only themselves and the desert.'
Astronomy enthusiasts here thought
Dr Baaijens' life was interesting.
Mr Albert Lim, president of The Astronomical Society of
Singapore, said: 'Astronomers do not have any political boundaries. They may not always know
science, but they need devotion and effort.
'Maybe that's why he has a humanitarian
Dr Pang Kian Tiong, Senior Scientific Officer of SSC, said it was 'fortunate to get one of
the foremost meteorite hunters and experts to present this showcase, and guide our visitors through
What Dr Baaijens had to say was 'an eye-opener to anyone wanting to know
more' about the subject.
The meteorite exhibition at the Singapore Science Centre is on till Jan