Australian Meteorite Hunters Find Two New Space Rocks In Just Two Weeks

Dr Hadrien Devillepoix pointing to the meteorite found near Madura. Curtin University

If a shooting star makes it all the way to Earth, you get a meteorite. These rocks are important in helping us understand how the rocky bodies in the solar system formed, but finding these objects is not always easy. Therefore, researchers at Curtin University are certainly excited to have found two in a matter of two weeks.

The falls were both captured by the Desert Fireball Network (DFN), which uses cameras across Australia to observe when meteors enter the atmosphere and to predict where bits of them might land. The team usually search for meteorites from March to October, but the hunting season had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Just as restrictions lifted, a bolide was seen across the sky. Astronomer Dr Hadrien Devillepoix and planetary geologist Dr Anthony Lagain visited the area near Madura to scout it with a drone and stumbled on the space rock on the way back to the car.

“I thought Anthony was playing a prank on me, that he planted one of the fake meteorites we were using for the drone training session. But after a closer inspection, it was evident that the fist-sized, 1.1-kilogram [2.4-pound] rock we just found was indeed the meteorite we were after,” Dr Devillepoix said in a statement.

Thanks to the DFN, researchers were able to find the rock and work out its orbit before it hit our planet. The rock, as it turns out, was part of the Aten family of bodies, which cross Earth’s orbit but often spend most of their time closer to the orbit of Venus.

The second object was found two weeks later, when Dr Martin Towner led a six-person team to search for a meteorite that fell on November 18, 2019. The location of the potential space rock was estimated to be North-West of Forrest airport in the middle of the Nullarbor Plain. The 300-gram rock was discovered after four hours of searching. The researchers estimate that it originated from the middle part of the main asteroid belt. The team is now at work analyzing these rocks to learn more.

“Teams around the world have been trying to recover meteorites with orbits since the 1950s, but so far only around 40 have been recovered overall, and although the DFN is relatively new in this game, it already accounts for a significant part of this success,” Dr Eleanor Sansom, project manager of the DFN, concluded.


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