Meteorite Background Images

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Submitted by on Jan 19, 2020
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Meteorites come to light in one of several ways. For simplicity, we’ve grouped their discovery in four categories. The first 4 are known methods, the fifth, is pure luck.

Chicken Little: Wait for the sky to fall Niningeresque: Pubic Outreach Research & Recovery: Research old meteorite falls and finds, then follow up with field work Prospecting: Find good terrain and search for meteorites Serendipity: Meteorites find you

Chicken Little Method

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Chicken Little was right – the sky IS falling. Meteoroids strike the earth’s atmosphere every day, the total mass exceeds several tons. However, only a small percentage of meteoroids survive the fall to become meteorites. Of those only a small amount are witnessed by human populations. When a fireball or bolide is seen, often local astronomers and meteorite buffs begin the arduous task of trying to triangulate the incoming meteorite.

There is no guarantee that the fireball will produce a meteorite, but for big fireballs often it does. Daylight fireballs and daylight meteors are very likely to produce meteorites. Once a fresh meteorite is found, then the real search begins. This is because meteorites fragment in their descent to earth and they will fall in a line that is possibly over 10 km long and 3 km wide. Thus, a great deal of walking is involved in hunting the meteorites.

Some meteorites falls are high density and some are low. The November 20, 2008 fireball in Saskatchewan in Canada produced a high density field and I can report first hand, a meteorite was found every 30 minutes of walking. The April 15, 210 Wisconsin meteorite fall was was a very low density fall, perhaps one ever 25 hours of walking. Obviously grass height and terrain will greatly effect recovery rates. In the case of both falls, the average stone found was about the size of a walnut.

The main drawback, is there will be a huge amount of competition at a new meteorite fall, especially one in a first world country.

Niningeresque Method

H.H. Nininger is considered the father of modern meteoritics. He recovered thousands of meteorites, but not by walking and looking for them. He did it via outreach. The outreach was targeted to those who work closely with the earth. Farmers are the main target, they work the earth, disturb the earth, and watch the earth. Ranchers and hunters are also of interest, but they don’t disturb the earth so much as walk over it. These groups are important because more than 50% of all meteorites are found by farmers, ranchers, and hunters.

Nininger’s outreach came at a golden age, as it was a time when the farming equipment was just becoming powered and virgin soil was being busted for the first time. Also, the farmer was slightly elevated and could see the ground easily on the equipment of the era. Now, the farm equipment is much larger, the operator is higher in a cab and the cab is usually enclosed which reduces the chances of odd rocks being spotted.

Outreach should be multi-threaded. For example, writing newspaper articles, giving lectures, and posting education posters at farming supply stores, seed stores, and other likely areas that farmers and ranchers would visit. Part of the success of any outreach is the mention of reward for any meteorite found.

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