May 5, 2009
Meteorite hunters break Canadian recordThe spectacular asteroid fireball that lit up the skies of northern Alberta and Saskatchewan on November 20, 2008 has now broken the Canadian record for meteorites recovered from a single fall, according to the University of Calgary scientist leading the search for the remains of the asteroid fragment.
Alan Hildebrand, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Planetary Science, said more than 1000 meteorite pieces have been discovered in farmers’ fields in the Buzzard Coulee region just southeast of the border city of Lloydminster, Alberta/Saskatchewan and thousands more remain to be recovered now that the search has resumed.
“Now that the snow is gone we have lots of work to do. In the last few weeks we’ve resumed the search and, on average, collectively searchers are finding dozens a day,” said Hildebrand. “The meteorites came through the winter pretty well; some show a bit of rusty weathering on broken surfaces, but the fusion crusts haven't changed very much.”
The Buzzard Coulee asteroid fragment weighed approximately 10 tonnes when it entered the atmosphere, and it is estimated that more than 10,000 pieces larger than 1 gram fell to the ground. The U of C-organized search has recovered more than 400 pieces so far and a greater number has been confirmed found by local residents and other searchers. The previous record of 700 pieces recovered was set by the Bruderheim meteorite fall in central Alberta in 1960. The search effort is receiving support from Calgary-based ConocoPhillips Canada and has seen dozens of researchers, amateur astronomers , rock collectors, area residents and interested members of the public take part.
“Almost all our searching relies on the volunteers' donation of time and interest. They endured some bitter weather last fall and have come back this spring to carry on. I don't think that we will ever think of a way to adequately express the appreciation that we feel for their hard work,” Hildebrand said.
Hildebrand and U of C geoscience graduate student Ellen Milley were the first to locate pieces from the fireball on a frozen pond in Buzzard Coulee on Nov. 27, 2008. Lynne Maillet, who normally manages sedimentary and petroleum courses in the Department of Geoscience, is the logistical manager for the U of C’s spring search effort.
“The most fun for me is to see how the volunteers are thrilled after coming back from a search even in subzero weather,” Maillet said. “They have big smiles on their faces after finding their first meteorites. They warm up during lunch and head back out into the cold to find more.” Maillet has found her own first meteorites at Buzzard Coulee.
The largest fragment recovered to date is a 13-kilogram piece belonging to Alex and Jan Mitchell. The piece that is about the size of a human head was found by amateur meteorite hunter Les Johnson on Nov. 28. It was returned to the Mitchells, who own the land where it was found. Alex and Jan Mitchell and Mr. Johnson agreed that the piece should be used for research and the Mitchells decided to donate the piece to the University of Calgary to be part of the university’s research collection.
“It’s beyond delightful to have such a wonderful specimen found so early on in the search so that it hasn’t been much weathered. It is also exciting for us to have such a significant piece donated with a commercial value that we could never afford,” Hildebrand said.
The Buzzard Coulee search is expected to continue for several weeks and citizens interested in volunteering to take part should visit the search’s website for further information: http://www.ucalgary.ca/prairie_meteorite_search/