WHAT'S UP: Meteorite hunt in northeastern Ohio

Aug 19, 2011

The Southern Ontario Meteor Network is a network of seven all-sky cameras that constantly monitor the night sky for the tell-tale signs of a meteor in the atmosphere above. When a meteor is detected by the network, video from the individual cameras is processed automatically on a computer to reveal the meteor’s size and trajectory.

The Aug. 8 meteor was a fireball, a slow and bright meteor that penetrated deep into the atmosphere before partially disintegrating. The space rock, estimated to weigh about 20 pounds, flared up high over Lake Erie north of Cleveland and was headed south-southeast over Ohio at about 25,000 miles per hour.

For meteors, 25,000 miles per hour is relatively slow.

After the meteor broke apart, several fragments were detected by a weather radar at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. These fragments, perhaps each weighing a few ounces, likely fell to ground intact.

So the hunt is on. Meteorite hunters are searching in Trumbull County near the towns of Warren, Kinsman and Hermitage, east of Cleveland, guided by the weather radar tracks.

When a meteor fragment reaches the ground it is called a meteorite.

Finding a meteorite is not easy. Meteorites are normally not very big — they don’t make craters and don’t glow in the dark or anything like that.

Meteorites superficially look like small rocks. Most places on earth are littered with small rocks.

Not surprisingly, Antarctica and central Greenland have proven to be great places to find meteorites, travel considerations aside.

One famous U.S. meteor fall occurred in Peekskill, N.Y., in 1992. This meteor — a fireball like the one on Aug. 8 — streaked across the sky over several states and was captured on video by more than a dozen sources.

A large fragment of the Peekskill meteorite slammed through a garage and into a family car parked inside.

Several links to this story and a great picture are available at NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day for Nov. 19, 2006 (http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap0611...).

Meteorites are of great interest to scientists and astronomers. They bring to earth samples of material from far back in the solar system’s past.

Some meteorites were once part of larger solar system bodies, like asteroids and planets. Other meteorites are more ancient and less processed, made up of the very material from which the solar system first formed.

Meteorite hunting can be profitable. Certain types of meteorites are quite valuable, bringing thousands of dollars from researchers and collectors.

Before you take time off work to join the meteorite hunting fray in northeastern Ohio, be aware that a meteorite legally belongs to the owner of the land on which the meteorite fell.

And another interesting legal tidbit: most insurance policies don’t cover damage caused to your car or home if either is hit by a meteor.

Don’t rush off to buy a meteor-strike rider for your homeowner’s insurance policy; although a ton or so of meteoritic material falls to earth daily, essentially all of it is disintegrated to dust high in Earth’s atmosphere.

— By Doug Furton, a member of the physics faculty at GVSU. Send questions and suggestions to dgf@inbox.com.

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