Thursday, April 25, 2024

Keep an eye out for great balls of fire 

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Farmers, it turns out, make excellent meteorite spotters – and scientists would like them to keep their eyes peeled once more.
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The hunt is on for New Zealand’s next meteorite.

Fireballs Aotearoa is launching a nationwide search for meteorites. They could be sitting on a mantelpiece, used to hold a door open or manifest as an out-of-place rock sitting in a paddock.

Just nine meteorites have been confirmed in NZ. 

In 2004, one came through the roof of a house in Ellerslie. It bounced off the couch, hit the ceiling and ended up on the carpet under the television. Because it was daytime, no one had seen it enter the atmosphere, and it gave the house owners quite a start in the next room. 

An image of a bright green meteor taken by Greg Price in Richmond.

Apart from that, the Mokoia (Whanganui) meteorite that fell in 1908 is the only NZ meteorite to have been recovered soon after it fell.

The other seven confirmed NZ meteorites were mostly found by farmers over the past 165 years – they are: Wairarapa in 1863, Makarewa 1879, Morven 1925, View Hill 1953, Waingaromia 1970, Dunganville 1976 and Kimbolton 1976. 

The Kimbolton meteorite got stuck in a set of harrows a couple of times, and the Waingaromia rock was pulled out of the ground by a boy as the sheep kept hitting their feet on it.

In an average year, about four meteorites land on NZ, and over long spans of time that adds up to quite a sprinkling across the land. 

So, it is not surprising that every now and then one of these extraterrestrial visitors is found.


These casts of meteorites found in New Zealand show how they vary in colour and size. Each green bar along the top of the scale represents 1cm. Photo: Courtesy of Canterbury Museum .

Meteorites can tell us much about the formation of the solar system four and a half billion years ago.  

The most instructive are fresh falls that haven’t been weathered on Earth, which is why Fireballs Aotearoa has recently set up a network of 110 cameras looking for the fireballs and meteors that get low enough to land a rock on the ground. This camera network is a collaboration between members of the public, schools, universities, observatories, and the Royal Astronomical Society of NZ.

If you believe you might have a meteorite, get in touch with Fireballs Aotearoa at  meteorites@rasnz.org.nz or through fireballs.nz, and scientists will sort through the submissions. If the sample is a strong candidate for being a meteorite, scientists will start a process that may lead to it being identified as NZ’s 10th meteorite.

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