Imagine an agency/company has been set up to track meteors (shooting stars) in pursuit of profit. I need to provide a motivation to upgrade their sensors + equipment over and over again — pouring money into the process for promise of a bigger reward.

Conventional logic might say: larger meteors are more valuable (recoverable?) but those are the brightest and easiest to spot. I need to lay the opposite incentives, harder-to-track meteors being more valuable. This doesn't need to be hard science, but the more plausible the better.

So far my ideas include:

  • If recovering meteors is the prize - bigger is better. So:

    • Brighter meteors are ones burning up more. Some meteors are made of more durable materials and burn less, landing with more material intact.
    • Tracking the flightpath is key to recovery. Bigger (more valuable) meteors leave a longer path, and that needs bigger telescopes / wider fields of view to fully track. E.g. the company is losing out on all the bright paths it can't follow fully.
  • If information is the prize:

    • Tracking more meteors (and dimmer ones) gives more info, about X. Perhaps smaller meteors are better indicators of valuable asteroids in orbit, etc.

Any other ideas?

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    $\begingroup$ If tracking meteoroids is somehow actually profitable then quite obviously one will seek to track more of them, thus establishing radar stations etc. in more and more locations, or uprading said radar stations to cover larger areas. What I don't fully understand if you actually have decided how to make meteoroid tracking to be profitable. P.S. The bright light is emitted mostly by the compressed and heated air, not by the meteoroid itself. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 23 '19 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that's my question: What might make harder-to-track meteors more valuable? $\endgroup$ – AlexHeeton Jun 23 '19 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know. The same thing which makes the usual ordinary bright meteoroids valuable? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 23 '19 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ Then the brighter (bigger) ones would be more valuable. I'm asking for ideas for the opposite. $\endgroup$ – AlexHeeton Jun 23 '19 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding. From our help center: Avoid asking question where your answer is provided along with the question, and you expect more answers $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jun 23 '19 at 15:58

Consider it from the opposite direction. The goal isn't to detect the fainter meteors (although that's an okay side benefit). The goal is to detect the bright ones from further away, so that you can find them first.

Clearly ownership of the meteor('s profits) doesn't belong to the person whose property it lands on. If it did, you wouldn't need to detect them at all, just buy lots of meteor-prone land and wait and hope. So, logically, your companies are laying claim to these things while they're still in space somehow. (This seems a little squirrelly, from what I know of analogs in property and maritime law, but hey, there's no law yet in space, so who knows?) The first claim is presumably the most likely one to be honored, in the absence of a good reason to do otherwise. The first person to spot the meteor gets the big bucks, and everybody else gets bupkis.

No doubt there will be all sorts of fascinating case law concerning how much you need to know to claim a meteor and what happens if you're wrong, etc., but the gist of it is that you need the big telescopes to beat your rivals to the punch.

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    $\begingroup$ Further to this, I was going to suggest perhaps the company wants to detect fainter objects because they'll have less competition for the claim when those companies that are only able to detect bright ones are eliminated. $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Jun 24 '19 at 2:19

"In a near miss with Jupiter, the largest meteor known "Cerse's Tail" fractured into countless small fragments. These fragments, in erratic orbits are landing randomly on the earth. It turns out Cerse's Tail was especially rich in rare earth metals and platinum, above the average, but most of the fragments are too small to be detected by conventional testing equipment. As such Comet Tracking org has decided to make a large investment in improved sensor technology to better detect the fruits of Cerse's Tail."

Larger ones are going to be more valuable, statistically, but locally, they don't have to be more valuable. You could have x decades when there were a lot more valuable small chunks by chance, and so a strong reason to upgrade.


The Earth is hit by aprox. 18,000 to 84,000 meteorites bigger than 10 grams per year, but very few are bigger than one kilogram. Even big meteorites aren't that big, and can be quite worthless if their composition is not of valuable things. But by tracking 10s of thousands of impacts you can prioritize how valuable each impact is based on how much info you can collect on them.

There is a huge profit certainty difference between spending your time searching a 100 meter radius area for a meteorite of unknown size and composition and being able to know down to the 10 meter radius where a 300-400 gram meteorite containing 20-50% platinum landed. The more info you have on each impact, the more likely you will able to prioritize right which ones are and are not profitable to recover.


I don't think that you need dimmer meteors to be more valuable. Let's consider a rather simple model. Detectors come in steps and doubling the cost halves the brightness at which meteors can be spotted. We'll ignore that meteors that are farther away can be seen sooner with better detectors (already explained at this answer). And we'll pretend that all meteors are the same value to start.

Now, if you have stage one detectors, you can see half the meteors. With stage two, three quarters. Stage three, seven eighths. See the pattern? With each stage, you only miss half as many meteors. And remember, we double the cost at each stage.

Now let's make some competitors. We'll make eight competitors with stage one detectors; four with stage two; two with stage three; and one with stage four. So for a given meteor of stage one brightness, all fifteen competitors will be able to see it. With stage four, only one competitor. If more than one competitor can see it, assume they split it (or they have an equal chance of getting it, such that over time they effectively split the flow).

The result of this is that the single group with stage four detectors obtains all the stage four meteors. That's a sixteenth of the total. Half of the stage three meteors for half of an eighth, which is a sixteenth. Same pattern for stage two and one, so four sixteenths or a quarter total.

Meanwhile, the group with stage three detectors only gets three sixteenths, as they don't get any of the stage four meteors. The two stage two groups only get an eighth (two sixteenths). And the four stage one groups only get a sixteenth each. The remaining sixteenth are not recovered.

The stage four group gets more meteors than anyone else. If the 33% increase in revenue is enough to account for the cost increase in the detectors, then it can still work.

One might argue that dimmer meteors are likely smaller and less valuable. That's realistic. So let's add another piece of realism. It's likely there are more small meteors than large meteors. So let's change our original assumption that all meteors are equally valuable and instead say that small meteors are more common. So our overall mass or volume of meteors is constant, as the increase in quantity offsets the decrease in quality. We don't need to change the analysis otherwise.

So let's get back to another previous simplifying assumption, that better detectors only allow us to find more meteors, not to find meteors sooner. Let's assume that a stage four detector gives twice the chance to recover a stage three meteor. So now instead of a sixteenth, the stage four group gets two thirds of that eighth. And everything else scales the same way.

$$\frac{1}{16} + \frac{2}{2+1}\cdot\frac{1}{8} + \frac{4}{4 + 2 + 2\cdot 1}\cdot\frac{1}{4} + \frac{8}{8 + 4 + 2\cdot 2 + 4\cdot 1}\cdot\frac{1}{2} = \frac{1}{16} + \frac{1}{12} + \frac{1}{8} + \frac{1}{5} = \frac{113}{240}$$

Now we have the stage four getting almost half the revenue. Let's add up the costs (the stage four is 8).

$$ 8 + 4 + 2 \cdot 2 + 4 \cdot 1 = 20$$

So the stage four spends 40% of the total cost on detectors but gets about 47% of the revenue. The better detectors are more than paying for themselves.


The small ones are not actually meteors.

Large meteors are well represented in museums; space stones and metal chunk. But a chance encounter with a small meteor destined to burn up in the atmosphere revealed that it was not a space stone, but a built thing: an alien artifact. The smaller fractions of the class of "meteorites" contains a fair proportion of these artifacts, and rare ones have proven to contain hints of alien tech which can be reverse engineered into profitable inventions. Tech is one thing; alien life is another...


I like your idea of information, e.g. for tracking objects that do not make contact with earth (yet). A small meteor has as much info (direction and speed) as a large one, but detecting smaller one lets you detect a lot more of them, providing you with a lot more info.

As for why that info is valuable: You might be looking for valuable asteroids to harvest. Or maybe you are harvesting dust clouds that pass near Earth.

Moreover, as we harvest those asteroids or dust clouds, we will harvest first the ones that are easiest to find. So to continue harvesting, you gotta get better and better at finding them. It is somewhat similar to oil -- finding oil today is a lot harder than 100 years ago.

As for why do we need to harvest asteroids or space dust: there are some special minerals that are hard to find or produce on earth. We can make any elements, but it requires a nuclear reactor. Being in space and subjected to solar radiation can create specific isotopes or un-earthly crystal structures.

PS Another idea: space dust is valuable b/c it is leftovers of ancient alien ships, e.g. their quantum/light-based electronics, or their nanobots. These were scattered across solar system after prehistoric space battle.


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