Rock & Gem
A New Technique for Recovering Elusive Meteorites
When zooming through the atmosphere as a fireball, a rock from space is called a meteor. Should it achieve landfall, it becomes a meteorite and an object of desire. O en, it breaks up in the sky and falls in multiple pieces across an area known as a strewn eld. Very soon a er an observed fall, strewn elds get scoured by both scientists seeking a wealth of knowledge and amateur collectors and dealers seeking a wealth of dollars given the price that meteorites command. Now, a new “anomaly detector” technique is being employed in the search.
The technique employs drones that fan out to photograph an area where a meteorite is presumed to have fallen based on photos of a fireball and/or eyewitness accounts. Researchers then feed these high-resolution photos into a computer program that includes an algorithm, or machine-learning technique, to detect anything anomalous or unusual on the ground.
The technique, recently described in the magazine Physics World, was used by Seamus Anderson (Curtin University, Australia) and his team to scour an area of Western Australia nearly two square miles in extent where a fireball had been witnessed streaking over the sky. While pointing researchers to “tin cans, bottles, and snakes,” it also led them to the fragment of a fresh meteorite so small it ts comfortably in the palm of a hand.