Meteorite Hunters Flock to Alabama!

Posted on: 7:03 pm, November 8, 2012, by

It has been well over a week since a bright meteor streaked across Alabama’s sky and the excitement over finding meteorites continues.  Professional meteorite hunters and experts have been flocking to North Alabama, one of which who is meteorite expert Dr. Marc Fries of the Planetary Science Institute in Tuscon, Arizona and also developed the website galacticanalytics.com.  What occurred in Alabama’s sky last Tuesday, will likely never happen again in our lifetime. The plethora of optical phenomenon such as; sun halos, sun dogs, circumzenithal arcs and more seen at one time in the sky is an extremely rare event, on top of adding a meteor streaking across the sky at the same time and it becomes a once in a lifetime event!  For more information on the optical phenomena that occurred last week…check out valleywx.com.  The first meteorites from the meteor were found Saturday by a team of private collectors along a road in Bankhead National Forrest. Below are pictures from Galactica Analytics of the first meteorites found by Stephen Beck, Tommy Brown, Jerry Hinkle and Woolard.

Meteorite found on Saturday, November 3rd by; Stephen Beck, Tommy Brown, Jerry Hinkle and Robert Woolard. Source: http://www.galacticanalytics.com/meteorite-pictures/?locale=en_US&wppa-album=4&wppa-occur=4&wppa-photo=1

Meteorite found on Saturday, November 3rd by; Stephen Beck, Tommy Brown, Jerry Hinkle and Robert Woolard. Source: http://www.galacticanalytics.com/meteorite-pictures/?locale=en_US&wppa-album=4&wppa-occur=4&

The provisional name for the meteor is the “Addison Meteor”, but since the meteorites have not been sent to a university for confirmation, there has been no official name for the meteor yet. Once sent to a university and confirmed, meteorites are named after the closest town/city they are found near.

Based on the radar signature from the “meteoritic rain” from last week’s meteor, Dr. Fries compared that to another meteor that fell near West, Texas back in 2009.  Both had similar radar signatures, and meteorites hunters found about 100 meteorites, a total of about 10 kilograms.  It will be more difficult to recover the meteorites from this meteorite fall, due to the fact that many likely fell in Bankhead National Forrest, which will make them hard to uncover with leaves continuing to fall from trees and as more time passes by. Also the complication of hunting season starting within the next few days, which will make it dangerous to search.  If you go out meteor hunting, make sure to wear bright colored clothing so you are clearly visible. Below is an image from Birmingham radar showing faint radar echoes that could be from the dust and rocks from the fireball.

The bright meteor that streaked across Alabama’s sky last week was technically a “bolide”. Below is an explanation from the American Meteor Society.

“A fireball is another term for a very bright meteor, generally brighter than magnitude -4, which is about the same magnitude of the planet Venus in the morning or evening sky. A bolide is a special type of fireball which explodes in a bright terminal flash at its end, often with visible fragmentation.”

A bright, daytime bolide is extremely rare and the brighter the fireball, the more rare it is. Dr. Bill Cooke of lead of the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center stated that, “Earth intercepts about 500 tons of meteoritic material a day.”  According to Dr. Marc Fries, on average several thousand fireballs occur everyday and there are about 10-50 meteorite falls per day somewhere on Earth. Why more aren’t reported or meteorites found is due to the fact that many occur at night or are not seen. Also you have to keep in mind over 70% of our planet is ocean, so there are likely many meteorites at the bottom of the ocean floor that we will never be recovered. In summary, meteorite falls are common, but meteorite recoveries are rare.

Meteorites are classified in two different ways, by “Finds” or “Falls”.  A meteorite “find” is one in which the meteorite fell to the earth but was not seen, and could have been on the earth for thousands of years.  A meteorite “fall” is one in which there are witnesses to a fireball or bolide and meteorites are found at the likely fall site of the meteor.  Dr. Fries says that “Meteroite Finds” out number “Meteorite Falls” 45 to 1.

The meteorites found from last week’s meteor are the first to be documented in Alabama since 1954. The 1954 meteorite was the first confirmed meteorite to ever strike a person, which occurred in Sylacauga, AL in Talladega County.  Below is an image of the meteorite, known as the Hodges Meteorite because it struck Ann Elizabeth Hodges.  Hodges Meteorite is located at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa at the Alabama Museum of Natural History.

The confirmed meteorites from last Tuesday’s meteor, makes seven documented cases of recorded meteorite falls in Alabama. The other six recorded meteorite falls are listed below:

Danville – November 27, 1868
Frankfort – December 5, 1868
Felix – May 15, 1900
Leighton – January 12, 1907
Athens – July 11, 1933
Sylacauga – November 30, 1954

Meteorites are so valuable because they’re the only samples we have of the early solar system and they can reveal a lot about the history of Earth and the Solar System.  According to Dr. Fries, the average meteorite is approximately 41/2 billion years old. NASA plans to send more teams out in search of meteorites, with professional meteorite hunters will likely continue to scour the area southeast of Moulton and near Addison, AL for meteors as well. All the meteorites are not expected to be recovered and some could be found years from now.

- Jennifer Watson

Twitter: @JWatson_Wx

Facebook: Jennifer Watson WHNT

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