It rattled around in an old Folgers can for 30 years in Paul Albertson's Lakeview garage before he found out what it really was — an interplanetary space traveler.

It rattled around in an old Folgers can for 30 years in Paul Albertson's Lakeview garage before he found out what it really was — an interplanetary space traveler.

Now the thumb-size Fitzwater Pass meteorite that he picked up in 1976 while hunting for agates and jasper is generating interest from scientists worldwide.

Only the sixth meteorite found in Oregon and the second discovered east of the Oregon Cascades, it's "a small, iron meteorite, and it's one of the rare types of iron," said Dick Pugh, a scientist with the Cascadia Meteorite Laboratory at Portland State University.

Albertson, 58, a retired postal worker, got his first glimpse of the burned and cratered little meteorite while rock hunting 20 miles southwest of Lakeview in the Fitzwater Pass area. He remembers that it first appeared to be part of a broken axle from a frontier-era wagon.

"When I picked it up, I thought it was a piece of a wagon hub," he said. "There used to be a wagon trail in that area."

Chemical analysis has determined that the 63.6 gram (about 2 ounces) space rock belongs to the IIIF iron meteorite group, which includes only eight other recognized meteorites across the globe, said Lyn Craig of Fossil, executive director of the nonprofit Libraries of Eastern Oregon.

The libraries, with funding help from NASA, have sponsored Pugh to speak to more than four dozen public libraries in 15 Eastern Oregon counties over the past year or two.

Albertson took it to a local rock shop and was told it was worthless nickel ore. He tossed it into a coffee can, where it remained with some arrowheads, fossils and pottery shards for the next three decades.

He got an inkling that it might be something more when he attended a lecture on meteorites by Pugh at the Lake County Public Library in 2006. After Pugh had a long look at it, Albertson agreed to provide a slice of less than an ounce to PSU.

It was carefully scrutinized by Alex Ruzicka and Melinda Hutson of the meteorite laboratory and Stephen Kissin of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.

They ruled it was indeed a meteorite, and an uncommon one at that.

The delayed discovery is attracting a lot of attention to the rugged high desert and mountains where Albertson found the rock.

"We're looking for more pieces associated with Fitzwater Pass," Pugh said in a statement. "We don't know for sure whether this is a single or multiple meteorite fall. There is no way of knowing unless other pieces are found."

He won't release a photo of the Fitzwater Pass meteorite until Monday, when a news conference is scheduled at the Lakeview library to unveil the find. Pugh believes other Oregonians probably have unknowingly picked up meteorite chunks and they're even now languishing "on shelves, in basements, barns and workshops" around the state.

"I hope to flush out more in the years to come," he said.

Earlier this year, another hunk of space rock was officially recognized as the Morrow County meteorite — also after making its way to Pugh and the meteorite lab when its owner got curious about its origins. It, too, had been found years earlier, but was stashed in a rock garden and then under a barbecue on a deck in Washington state.

The thing about meteorites, Craig said, is they're rare and not-so-rare at the same time. Some scientists believe at least one meteorite could be found in every square mile in Eastern Oregon, she said.

Moreover, there's money in meteorites.

A 2007 New York City auction dedicated to meteorites attracted buyers from across the United States, Europe and Australia who spent a total of $750,000. A 219-pound piece of space rock found in Siberia and described in the auction catalog as "sexy" brought $122,750, and a mailbox from Georgia that was hit by a meteorite in 1984 commanded $82,750.

"I'm not interested in selling it, even if I could get a million dollars for it," Albertson said of his meteorite. He wants to keep what's left of it, about 44.2 grams, intact. "It needs to stay in Lakeview as an attraction for the community," he said.

Meanwhile, Albertson has been out looking for more meteorites and thinks he's got some good leads.

"I have people telling me about these big fireballs in the sky," he said. "You have got to listen to that stuff ... I'm always looking. Everybody should be looking."