After a spectacular fireball, the hunt for meteorites is launched in Washington County

Darryl Pitt couldn’t help but be excited when he heard a bright fireball had entered the Earth’s atmosphere over New Brunswick late Saturday morning.

His excitement grew when the Doppler radar detected meteorites descending from the sky. And now the search is underway in rural Washington County, where pieces of cosmic debris await hunters eager to retrieve them.

“Chances are that whatever is recovered could be worth its weight in gold,” said Pitt, president of the meteorite division at the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel.

The museum is offering a $25,000 reward for the first one-kilogram meteorite recovered. He will also purchase other specimens which he will verify as real to add to his vast collection of meteorites.

But finding them is the hardest part, especially in heavily wooded places like Maine.

It’s not uncommon for people to spot fireballs crossing the sky. The American Meteor Society tracks fireballs worldwide and last year recorded reports of 500 fireball events in the United States alone.

But recovering meteorites after witnessing a fireball is much rarer and only happens seven to ten times a year worldwide. Last year, five meteorites were recovered following a witnessed fireball.

Saturday’s fireball was spotted by residents of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, according to reports from the Meteor Society.

“When a fireball is bright enough to see in daylight, it would have been extraordinarily bright if it had been a night,” said Pitt, who is such a big fan of sky rocks that he just bought a car. because she was hit. by a.

A chondrite, an unmodified type of meteorite, on display at the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel. Photo of the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum

The meteorite fall occurred at 11:56 a.m. and was followed by loud sonic booms near Calais, according to NASA, which confirmed it was the first meteorite fall observed by radar in Maine. Four radar scans recorded signatures consistent with falling meteorites over a duration of 4 minutes and 40 seconds, a relatively short observation time, the agency said.

NASA says these meteorites fell directly into winds of up to around 100 mph, carrying smaller pieces across the border into Canada.

Typically, the scatter field – the term for the elliptical-shaped area of ​​debris where meteorites land – is about 10 miles long and 2 miles wide, but these dimensions can change depending on wind conditions and materials. fallen from the sky. Meteorites are often made up of rare combinations of elements or metals such as iron and nickel that help researchers gather new information about Earth, the solar system, and sometimes other planets.

In this case, the strewn field should be about a mile wide and extend just north of the town of Waite (pop. 66) and across the border to Canoose, New Brunswick. The radar returns have been a “game changer” for meteor hunters who have previously traveled to Washington County to conduct searches, Pitt said.

In 2016, Pitt was among meteor hunters who headed to Rangeley to search for parts after a fireball was captured on video streaking across the sky in western Maine. Scientists used video footage, seismic data and wind conditions to determine that meteorites may have landed north of the Lake Rangeley area. But this area was particularly difficult to excavate and none were recovered.

“It’s easier if it goes through someone’s roof. It’s harder when you get into less hospitable environments,” Pitt said, noting that most meteorites fall into the ocean or uninhabited areas.

There are a few useful clues to determine if a meteorite is a meteorite or just an ordinary rock. According to NASA, the distinguishing characteristics of a meteorite are a black, glassy or ashy fusion crust, irregular shape and magnetism. Meteorites are particularly heavy for their size and most contain iron. They have no crystals, bubbles, holes or scratches and are almost never round.

The meteor market is hot right now – last week a piece of jewelry made with lunar meteorites sold for more than $200,000 – but so is the drive to reclaim them quickly for scientific research. .

Pitt believes the international media coverage of high auction prices is a catalyst for a new generation of meteor hunters and meteor shows.

“It’s an amazing experience to have something in your hand and be able to look up into the sky exactly where it came from,” he said. “It’s something that makes us all a little more humble, a little more grateful and a little more grateful.”

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