Windsor

'I'm into rocks ... rocks from space!' says Chatham collector

Fred McPherson has travelled across the continent in search of meteorites. His collection currently numbers more than 400, many of which were found close to home.

Fred McPherson collects meteorites from across North America

Fred McPherson, aka "Mick the Meteorite Man" wanders far and wide to collect bits of meteors. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

Fred McPherson just returned from Arizona, after a trip dedicated to searching for rocks.

But not just any rocks. Space rocks, better known as meteorites.

"We look for strange-looking objects that respond to our metal detectors ... and go from there," said the Chatham retiree, also known as Meteor Mick. 

McPherson has searched for meteors in Nevada, California, and Arizona. But local rocks feature in his collection as well. He's found meteorites in "Chatham, Grimsby, St. Thomas, Toronto ... we've got a lot of local meteorite locations."

He compares searching for meteorites to chasing storms.

"Several of my colleagues will jump on a plane and travel anywhere in the world where they feel there's a chance of picking up a meteorite," said McPherson.

Meteorites from Fred McPherson (Lisa Xing/CBC)

There are a few ways to tell whether something he's found is from space, but it can be tricky. "It looks like a rock ... if it's attracted to a magnet, that's one test," he told CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive.

The appearance of a rock can provide clues too. "On the outside of a meteorite, the outside of the rock itself has turned black. That's called a fusion crust where the outside of the meteor has melted," he explained.

One final test involves rubbing a rock across a piece of ceramic tile. If the rock doesn't leave a mark, it may be a meteorite.

Fred McPherson shows off meteorites he's collected. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

McPherson said he started his collection early and was a "rock hound" at the age of five.

"I watched a television show ... and these guys were going out ... and pulling out these meteorites. Rocks from space," he said. "And I thought, 'Rocks from space, that's kind of cool!' "

McPherson reached out to the people he saw on the television to ask if he could tag along and his passion took off from there.

"Low and behold I got a response ... and they said, 'Sure we'll take you out, no problem!' " Years later, Meteor Mick has a collection of more than 400 meteorites.

As for his current quest?

"A small piece of the meteorite that fell in Dresden Ontario in 1939 ... that's what I'm looking for."

Questions about Meteor Mick's collection? Contact him at FMmeteorites@gmail.com

with files from CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive