In last week’s article I wrote about using hints from social media to track meteors. In that article there was a mention of a reward for finding parts of the meteor that flew over Missouri. I thought maybe someone wanted to hunt for it and did not know where to start, so here are some tips to meteorite hunting.
First I want to clear up the difference between a meteor and a meteorite. It is a meteor when it is flying overhead and on fire from entering the atmosphere. It becomes a meteorite once it hits the ground and cools. So you don’t go hunting meteors, you would never catch one.
Earth is under constant attack by space rocks, most of which either burn up completely or get lost to the depths of the oceans. However, there have been more than 40,000 catalogued discoveries of meteorites on the surface, and countless more are out there waiting to be found. Space rocks can be as valuable as $1,000 a gram, which is about the weight of the average paperclip. However, this treasure hunt requires hard work and dedication.
As always when searching for something, especially on public land or land owned by someone else, ask for permission. For example, space rocks found in national parks belong to the federal government and cannot be legally kept, but it varies from park to park. The federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management consists of 264 million acres and is different. It is a pretty safe bet that what you find there is yours to keep, but you should still ask. Meteorites, like other artifacts, belong to the land owner, so even searching on private land requires that you ask permission to keep what you find.
The second step is to pick a good spot to hunt. “Meteorites fall anywhere, but they are easiest to spot where there are few terrestrial rocks,” says Alan Rubin, a geochemist at the University of California, Los Angeles. Most meteorites are dark, so white sand deserts, icy regions and plains are ideal. In our area in particular, the plains of Kansas are a great place to look because of the limited terrestrial rock in the area. Any new rocks farmers dig up have a very good chance of being a meteorite. More than one meteorite has been found in a farmer’s rock pile, or even propping open a screen door.
It is also a promising idea to search for the new arrivals. Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, suggests finding the ground below a meteor’s “dark flight.” This is the part of the flight where it slows down to below 6000 miles per hour and stops burning. When there is an accurate trajectory of a meteor, these “dark flight” calculations are posted on the Internet across various sites.
You can also search for magnetic objects as meteorites are usually magnetic, but not always. Don’t rely too much on metal detectors either, as most meteorites are actually discovered by sight and not by the use of special equipment. Finally, if you do happen to find a meteorite, please share your find with the world.