Finding the fireball: Museum offers $25,000 US for meteorite
U.S. meteorite hunter is already planning 2nd trip to Maine
What would you do for $25,000 US? If your answer is running through the woods searching for a one-kilogram meteorite — you're in luck.
The Maine Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel, Maine, is willing to pay that — or more — for a piece of the "fireball" that people in New Brunswick and Maine spotted falling from the sky over the weekend.
NASA has since identified the unknown object as a meteorite.
And Darryl Pitt, head of the meteorite division at the museum, said even a small specimen of the rock would be "worth its weight in gold."
"If you take every single meteorite known to exist, it weighs less than the world's annual output of gold," said Pitt.
"There's only approximately 65 meteorites that have been found in Canada. Only one previously in New Brunswick ever. So this would be the second one once it's found."
Pitt said many people on both sides of the border saw the meteorite fall, but where it actually landed is a much more "constrained" area. It stretches from Waite, Maine, about 104 kilometres from the Houlton border, and Canoose, N.B., about 21 kilometres from St. Stephen, said Pitt.
He said this was determined by a Doppler radar, which is a specialized radar that produces velocity data about objects.
'One of the hottest collectibles'
The $25,000 US reward is for the first one-kilogram specimen, but even a 10-50 gram piece would be valuable, said Pitt.
"They're important to science [and] they're important to collectors," he said. "Meteorites have become one of the hottest collectibles, I suppose, on Earth."
He said the larger pieces seem to be in Maine, based on the Doppler radar returns. But he said there might be more specimens that are smaller in New Brunswick.
Roberto Vargas from Hartford, Conn., was out looking for one in the Maine-New Brunswick area on Monday. But with no luck, he plans to head back to the area on the weekend with the hope of walking away with his fourth meteorite in the past year.
Vargas started collecting meteorites in 2017, but didn't start hunting them until 2019. He used to be a mental health therapist, but soon realized it was hard to hunt meteorites while holding down a full-time job. So he made meteorite hunting his full-time gig.
"It's just about being ready to get up and go when one falls and getting there first. And then after that, it's just a matter of what you know," said Vargas.
He said he has a group of friends who look at radar returns, which is only one of several factors he considers when deciding whether a meteorite is worth chasing.
One factor in this meteorite hunt is that the fireball was bright enough to be seen in the daytime, which he said usually means it's a bigger piece. Vargas said there were also some reports of a sonic boom.
He said it's hard to put a price tag on meteorites, despite the $25,000 US prize being offered by the museum. He said it all depends on how many kilograms are out there, the type of meteorite and other factors.
If Vargas were to find a meteorite on his hunt this weekend, he would keep a piece for his personal collection, donate 20 per cent to a scientific institution in order to get it classified and likely give the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum first dibs on it, since it fell in Maine and he has a personal connection to Pitt.
He said there's something special about meteorite hunting. Even a non-successful hunt brings together a group of people that are passionate about it, said Vargas.
But his favourite part is finding a meteorite.
"There's nothing like that feeling of being the first person to touch a 4.6-billion-year-old rock that was in space, you know, a week ago," said Vargas.
What to look for
Pitt said it's unknown yet exactly what the specimens will look like because the first piece hasn't been found yet. But around 80 to 85 per cent of meteorites are classified as "common or ordinary," he said.
So most likely, someone looking for the specimens would see something black with a smooth surface and maybe slight indentations, said Pitt. It will likely be a little heavy, he said, and contain some metal, which means a magnet should stick to it.
Pitt said just the experience of looking for a meteorite is a great way to spend the day.
"Help science, get outdoors and be able to have one in your hand and then look up in the sky and understand it came from between Mars and Jupiter," said Pitt.
"A pretty enthralling experience."
With files from Information Morning Saint John