British Columbia

Meadow Creek, B.C., meteorite hunters hot on the trail of fireball fallout

A fireball streaking across the sky Monday night has inspired meteorite hunters near Meadow Creek, B.C., to start hunting for valuable fragments.

Depending on the type of rock, some meteorites can fetch a hefty sum from collectors

The bright flash of the fireball — in the top left corner — lights up the night sky across southern B.C. and Alberta Monday night. (Ian McMullan)

After a marvellous fireball dazzled spectators across B.C. and Alberta Monday night, a group of eager collectors is hoping to bag a precious piece of space debris.

The fireball streaked across the night sky around 10:14 pm PT on Sept. 4, 2017. Witnesses say a shaking, rumbling sound followed the bright flash.

The American Meteor Society estimates the fireball — or bollide as it's technically known — entered the atmosphere near Boswell, B.C., and terminated near Meadow Creek, B.C., roughly 100 kilometres away.

The area, in B.C.'s East Kootenay region, is sparsely populated.

Mark Healy, the owner of the Meadow Creek General store, says not much happens in the region and finding work is tough in the valley.

"People are out looking for meteor pieces," he said. "Employment is bad in the (Lardeau) Valley, so they're out looking."

The American Meteor Society has mapped an estimated trajectory of the fireball. The region, in B.C.'s East Kootenay, is sparsely populated.

A fragment could be a valuable find. In Canada, meteorites are owned by the owner of the property where they were found. In order to be sold as a meteorite, the rocks need to be typed and certified as a real meteorite.

Jaymie Matthews, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of British Columbia, says some meteorites have significant market value.

"You can sell them to collectors and you can go on eBay and advertise them. It depends on the nature of the rock," he said, with some valued up to $1 million.

Part of that is the rarity of finding such rocks on the surface.

"The atmosphere gets pummelled by small things very often and very little of that actually makes it down to the surface," he said. 

The 30-ton meteorite excavated in Argentina in 2016 was one of the largest ever found on Earth. (Reuters)

But Matthews said it might be a challenge for hunters to find anything near Meadow Creek.

"It's fairly rugged terrain around Meadow Creek, and it may be hard for hunters to actually recognize and find any fragments if they're there," he said.

There's also the question of what exactly the fireball — which is an exceptionally bright meteor — was made of. There are more likely to be fragments if the fireball was made of a rocky, asteroidal matter rather than if it was a icy, cometary substance, he said.

Matthews says the knowledge contained within the fragment is far greater than its monetary value.

"If it really does date back four billion years or more, it would have incredible scientific value," he said. "We could use them literally as museum pieces of the formation of the solar system."

With files from Bob Keating