On the lookout for meteorites
By Jenn Watt
Mary Jane McLeod was up in the early hours of Wednesday, July 24, not able to sleep, and was looking out her bedroom window in Stanhope when she saw something bright moving across the sky.
She didn’t hear any sound, but said it was a “streaking bright flash of light” south of her home.
“[It] appeared to be a shooting star, so I wished upon it,” she said.
What McLeod might have seen was a meteorite that sparked so much interest from academics that
Western University put out a press release about “a fireball as bright as the full moon.”
The meteorite was captured on video by the All-Sky Camera Network, which is run by Western’s physics and astronomy department in collaboration with NASA’s meteoroid environment office, which monitors for meteors.
What particularly interested scientists was the likelihood that fragments of the meteorite fell in the Cardiff area.
“This fireball likely dropped a small number of meteorites in the Bancroft area, specifically near the small town of Cardiff,” said Peter Brown, Western astronomy professor.
“We suspect meteorites made it to the ground because the fireball ended very low in the atmosphere just to the west of Bancroft and slowed down significantly. This is a good indicator that material survived.”
If they recover fragments, researchers will be better able to ascertain where the meteorite came from in the solar system.
“Analysing the meteorite in conjunction with its orbit tells us where it comes from and what it is made of; ultimately this helps us understand how the solar system formed,” Brown told the Echo.
“The video data tells us the meteorite’s orbit prior to hitting the atmosphere.”
An event like the one last week is relatively rare.
“Bright fireballs such as the one [on July 24] which possibly drop meteorites occur every year or two over southern Ontario,” Brown said.
It is hoped that if fragments are discovered, they will be taken to the Royal Ontario Museum to help with research. Meteorites are dark in colour with a scalloped exterior, information from Western University says. They are dense and are often attracted to magnets because of their metal content.
Anyone who finds one is asked to put it in a clean plastic bag or aluminum foil and avoid touching it to preserve its scientific value.
Meteorites belong to the landowner whose land they are found on; if you do take a meteorite to the ROM, Brown said you can ask to have it returned to you after it’s studied.
Anyone who has found a suspicious rock that could be a meteorite fragment in the Cardiff area is asked to contact Kim Tait at the ROM: firstname.lastname@example.org.
As for McLeod, she says she’s waiting to see if the wish she made Wednesday morning will come true.