Western University researchers comb Grand Bend for meteorite chunks

A fireball flashed through the southwestern Ontario sky on January 24. Researchers from Western University believe its low entry speed and steep entry angle make it likely that the meteor left remnants near Grand Bend.

They're walking up and down country roads and knocking on doors

Researcher Michael Mazur holds up a piece of meteorite as an example of what they're looking for. (Ashley Albert/CBC News)

Researchers from Western University say trying to find remnants from a fireball that flashed through the southern Ontario sky Wednesday is like looking for a needle in a haystack. 

Or, rather, like a fingernail in a farmer's field.

They're combing Grand Bend, Ont. for small, black chunks of meteorite, roughly the size of a nail.

Michael Mazur, of the Western Meteor Physics Group, said the fragments should weigh between 10 and a few hundred grams, maximum. There may be "tens" of them, but not many more.

Michael Mazur is knocking on doors in Grand Bend, Ont., hoping to find pieces of meteorite in the snow. (Ashley Albert/CBC News)

The bright meteor flashed through the sky Wednesday at 7:24 p.m.

Its low atmospheric entry speed and the steep entry angle make it likely that the meteor left some remnants on the ground. 

The meteor was captured on camera by a network of video cameras directed by Western University.

It's the first time in years that a meteor would've dropped a "reasonable" amount of material in southwestern Ontario, said Mazur.

Pounding the pavement

Although the camera network is sophisticated, the on-the-ground research is basic.

The team is walking up and down country roads and knocking on doors, asking residents in the area for permission to sift through their property.

Mazur said he doesn't mind; no one has 'released their hounds' on him, so far. 

"You can't find anything if you sit in the office," said Mazur, adding that he encourages those in the area to keep their eyes close to the ground for any unusual-looking rocks.

It's a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack, Mazur said. (Ashley Albert/CBC News)

"You can't see the fireball looking down but at least you might see a rock that looks interesting," he said. "Pick it up and if you're not sure contact someone at the university."

Mazur's colleague Denis Vida added that the hard packed snow on the ground should at least make the black meteorites easier to spot.

They will also benefit from a crew of grad students who will help comb the area.

So why go to the trouble?

First of all, the fact that the meteor was captured by several cameras means that the researchers have a good sense of what its orbit was like.

It's rare to know the orbit of a piece of meteorite found on the ground, Mazur said.

If they do find something, it could provide information about the origin of the solar system and how it evolved over time.

"These rocks are 4.5 billion years old, the age of the solar system, and they do change with time. Some are a lot more primitive than others and some have been affected by water, they've been affected by heat and it just tells us how our solar system developed," he said.

"It's one more data point to the work that gets done."