Fragments of a meteor are being stored in an inert nitrogen atmosphere in a lab at the University of Calgary. ((CBC))

The fireball that lit up prairie skies last month might have resulted in Canada's largest recorded meteorite fall, a scientist who led a team that collected more than 100 fragments said on Monday.

The number of meteorites larger than 10 grams that hit the ground on Nov. 20 was probably more than 10,000, said Alan Hildebrand, a geology and geophysics professor at the University of Calgary. 

"The last day that the search teams were out, it snowed all day and we still found five meteorites, which is ridiculous," said Hildebrand in a release. "It shows just how many are out there."

Hundreds of people phoned police stations and media outlets after the meteor flashed across the sky with their witness accounts.

Hildebrand and graduate student Ellen Milley, who found the first piece of meteorite on a pond in Buzzard Coulee on Nov. 27, are proposing that the meteorite fall be named after the Saskatchewan valley.


Andy Bartlett recorded this image from a 10th-floor apartment in Edmonton on his digital camera. ((Submitted by Andy Bartlett))

Hildebrand calculated the number of meteorites in the strewn field — the area in which the meteor fragments are dispersed — based on how many were found on the pond.

He is a leader with the Prairie Meteorite Search, a collaborative project with the University of Western Ontario, the University of Regina and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Volunteer searchers, including locals, amateur astronomers and university students, worked in conditions of about –20 C each day hunting for meteorites with Hildebrand. They were joined by enthusiasts from across the Prairies and meteorite hunters who went to the area to try their luck.

"We have had great co-operation from landowners, who are having a once-in-a-lifetime experience of a meteorite harvest," Hildebrand said in the release. "Approximately 130 well-substantiated meteorites have been found totalling about 40 kg, but probably double that number, weighing more than 50 kg, have been recovered."

He said there's no doubt that when recovery efforts resume in the spring, a Canadian record will be set for the largest number of pieces found from a single fall.

Hildebrand said he would like everyone who found a meteorite to send him the mass in grams, and the location of the find to help him map the strewn field.

The meteorites found by the University of Calgary team are being stored in an inert nitrogen atmosphere in the meteorite lab on campus.

Hildebrand says the space rocks, which are about 4½ billion years old, are classified as a type called H4. That means they're high in iron and that they experienced a lower level of heat than some other types of meteorites, something that may have kept them from degrading.

With files from Canadian Press