A meteorite fell in Ontario this summer. A woman says she found it, but experts aren’t convinced | TheRecord.com

2022-09-23 18:51:42 By : Admin

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PARIS — The night seemed to come alive.

A burning rock blazing through the Earth’s atmosphere danced across the sky in a flash of white, blue and orange light.

More than 100 sightings of the fireball were reported to the American Meteorological Society in the days that followed that July night, from as far north as Elliot Lake, Ont., to as far south as Columbus, Ohio.

On a dairy farm in Paris, Ont., Corrie Gallant was walking the stone path to her friend’s new barn when she noticed the light in the sky. She started running so she wouldn’t lose sight of whatever barrelled down toward the Earth.

The fireball seemed to be on a direct path to land behind the barn, she said, but by the time she got around the barn, all was quiet in the night sky.

She ran, screaming, for her husband and his friend, both inside the barn. They all returned outside and stared out at the sprawling farmland in search of a fire where Gallant was sure the meteorite must have hit.

There was no sign of impact.

Not willing to give up, she returned the next day and began her search. That’s when she found them — two rocks, about three metres apart, noticeably different than the surrounding rubble and debris.

She had found her meteorite — or, at least, she thought she had. Then began the journey to confirm her find.

“It’s been quite the mystery,” she said from her home in Brantford. “I’ve always thought that the adventure of finding something is more fun than the knowing, and this whole process has been so exciting.”

About 70,000 meteorites have been found worldwide — but only about 70 in Canada.

Quick internet searches will give the amateur meteorite tracker a couple of quick tests to see if they have found a meteorite — the rock should be magnetic, and it shouldn’t leave a mark if scratched across an unglazed ceramic.

Gallant’s finds met both of those tests.

Gallant contacted astrophysicists at the University of Waterloo and York University, who, not having direct expertise, referred her to three different Canadian establishments to help confirm her find: the Royal Ontario Museum, the Western Paleomagnetic and Petrophysical Laboratory and the University of Alberta Meteorite Collection.

Mineralogy technician Veronica Di Cecco at the Royal Ontario Museum reviewed photos of Gallant’s finds, concluding that they were inconsistent with what is typically found in a meteorite.

Due to the extreme conditions undergone when entering the Earth’s atmosphere, meteorites should have a fusion crust on the outside layer, she explained, typically resembling black or dark glass. Gallant’s rocks have no fusion crust.

Gallant’s rocks also have some rust. Rust is only formed in the presence of oxygen, and there is no oxygen in space. If a meteorite was found within 24 hours of falling, it would not have time to form rust.

Researchers at Western University also had bad news. Based on the fireball’s trajectory, a meteorite would have landed somewhere in the Vaughan area, just north of Toronto, said Paul Wiegert, a professor at Western’s department of physics and astronomy.

While it may have appeared as if the fireball was falling just a few metres from Gallant, humans can’t accurately tell distance when something is travelling at 20 km/second through the Earth’s atmosphere, he said. There’s also a strong possibility the meteorite disintegrated and never hit the Earth, he said.

Nonetheless, he said, just seeing a fireball is something to be celebrated.

“I have been studying asteroids for 55 years and I have never seen one — at least not a very bright, spectacular fireball,” he said. “So I’ll admit to being somewhat jealous of the people who do spot these, because it is quite a unique and unusual experience.”

University of Alberta professor Chris Herd also dashed Gallant’s hopes in an interview. Every year, he said, people from all around the world submit more than 1,000 potential meteorites to the Alberta Meteorite Collection. Only one or two turn out to be a meteorite.

“I’ve pulled up her submission and I can tell you right away that this isn’t a meteorite,” he said.

Like Di Cecco, he based his conclusion on the lack of fusion crust and the presence of rust.

Specialty cameras designed to track meteorites point to a fall zone near Vaughan, not Paris, he said.

“This is an exact science, and it is not possible for a piece to land 100 kilometres away,” he said.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, came to a similar conclusion in its report about the fireball, posted on social media.

“The meteor first became visible at an altitude of 48 miles above the Toronto suburb of King City, moving south at 49,200 miles per hour. Descending downward at a steep angle of 70 degrees, the object — an asteroidal fragment 8 inches in diameter and weighing some 25 pounds — disintegrated 21 miles above the intersection of (highways) 400 and 427 in Toronto. At its brightest, the fireball rivalled a waxing crescent Moon,” NASA said.

Over his career, Herd has been involved in more than 200 verified meteorite finds; verification includes the submission and naming with the Meteoritical Society, the international body tasked with cataloguing all known meteorites.

Naming and verification are important because meteorites are big business.

A lunar or Martian meteorite can fetch as much as $1,000 per gram, and particularly large finds can sell for millions of dollars on the open market. Fewer than 200 such meteorites have ever been discovered on Earth.

More common meteorites — from asteroids, say — can sell for $1 to $20 per gram, still a hefty amount if the meteorite is large.

Some of the experts suggested the rocks Gallant found could be slag, a byproduct of metal smelting.

Slag is the most common culprit of a “meteor-wrong,” said Herd.

For some closure, Gallant wants to have the rocks examined to figure out what they are. Both Western and Alberta offer this for a fee.

She’s also taken it to a local jeweller who sells meteorite jewelry, who suggested she cut it open to see what is inside.

“I’m definitely a realist and I know there is a possibility that this may not be a meteorite,” she said. “If I get the results and they say this is 100 per cent slag, then I’ll have no problems moving on. But this whole experience has been so much fun, and I want to see it through to the end.”

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