Western Canadian meteor had mass of 10 tonnes: scientists

The meteor that lit up the skies across Alberta and Saskatchewan last week was a monster, according to scientists — with a mass of 10 tonnes and packing a punch equivalent to 300 tonnes of TNT.

The meteor that lit up the skies across Alberta and Saskatchewan last week was a monster — according to scientists — with a mass of 10 tonnes and packing a punch equivalent to 300 tonnes of TNT.

And because it was so big, the burning rock may have scattered football-sized chunks of itself across 24 square kilometres near the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, researchers at the University of Calgary said Tuesday.

Thanks in part to the fact that thousands of people observed Thursday's meteor, and in some cases obtained video recordings of it, more details are emerging every day about its trajectory and where pieces of it might have landed.

It first appeared about 80 kilometres above and just east of the border city of Lloydminster. From there, it travelled south-southeast toward the Battle River Valley before "fragmenting spectacularly" in a series of explosions, just after 6:26 p.m. CT, University of Calgary researchers said.

U of C researcher Alan Hildebrand estimates that hundreds of meteorites larger than 50 grams could have landed since the rock was large and was moving relatively slowly — roughly 14 kilometres per second when it entered the atmosphere, compared to a more typical meteor speed of 20 kilometres per second.

The meteor came down at a steep angle — about 60 degrees from the horizontal — and flared up for about five seconds.

Researchers are continuing to pinpoint the area where meteorite pieces are most likely to have fallen.

The best estimate is within Saskatchewan's Manitou Lake rural municipality, north of Marsden and Neilburg and just south of the Battle River.

Regina astronomy professor and meteor expert Martin Beech said he plans to survey the area, which is mostly farmland, on the weekend.

Time is of the essence because snow and other elements could bury or contaminate the pieces, he said.

"You want to try to find it as quick as you can," Beech said. "That's why the clock is ticking."

There has already been some local interest generated in the rural municipality, according to RM of Manitou Lake spokeswoman Joline Houk.

An amateur meteorite hunter recently bought a map of the area to start his own search, she said.

"He was definitely not a scientist, but he had some knowledge of what he was talking about," she said.

Meteorites are often black, heavier than normal rocks and magnetic.

Under Canadian law, meteorites belong to the owner of the property they land on, Beech said.

"We'd certainly encourage anybody who might have found it to either donate it or sell it in Canada — that's the ideal," he said. "Because then it's available for future research."

Time is also running out to collect video data on the fireball, the U of C's Hildebrand said.

Security cameras across the Prairies recorded the fireball, a rich source of data that could help scientists plot the orbit of the meteor. However, they are concerned that some security camera data might be taped over in the days ahead.

Three gas stations and motels in Lloydminster, Lashburn and Maidstone are known to have video records. Hildebrand hopes many more will come forward in the days ahead.