Finding the Fireball: Museum Offers US$25,000 for Meteorite

Pitt said meteorites are often black with slight indentations. This photographed meteorite is part of Roberto Vargas’ collection and was found in Junction City, Georgia. The coin weighs 24.7 grams. (Submitted by Roberto Vargas)

What would you do for US$25,000? If your answer goes through the woods in search of 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 residents of New Brunswick and Maine have seen falling from the sky over the course of 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 is “worth its weight in gold”.

A man outdoors smiling.  He wears a blue jacket and a red baseball cap.
Darryl Pitt, head of the meteorite division at the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum, said even a small meteorite specimen is “worth its weight in gold.” (Submitted by Darryl Pitt)

“If you take every meteorite known to exist, it weighs less than the world’s annual gold production,” Pitt said.

“There are only about 65 meteorites that have been found in Canada. Only one previously in New Brunswick. So that would be the second time it’s been 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 kilometers from the Houlton border, and from Canoose, New Brunswick, about 21 kilometers from St. Stephen, Pitt said.

He said this was determined by Doppler radar, which is a specialized radar that produces velocity data on objects.

“One of the hottest collectibles”

The US$25,000 reward is for the first one-kilogram specimen, but even a 10-50 gram piece would be valuable, Pitt said.

“They are important for science [and] they are important to collectors,” he said. “Meteorites have become one of the hottest collectibles, I guess, on Earth. Voluntary pun.”

He said the larger chunks appeared to be in Maine, based on Doppler radar returns. But he said there may be more smaller specimens in New Brunswick.

On Monday, Roberto Vargas of Hartford, Conn., was looking for one in the Maine and New Brunswick area. But unsuccessfully, he plans to return to the area at the weekend in hopes of returning with his fourth meteorite in the past year.

On the left, a man points to a spot on the grass.  On the left, a black boulder sits among the blades of grass.
Roberto Vargas in Cranfield, Mississippi, after finding a meteorite. He found three meteorites last year. (Submitted by Roberto Vargas)

Vargas started collecting meteorites in 2017, but didn’t start hunting them until 2019. He was a mental health therapist, but soon realized that it was difficult to hunt meteorites while occupying a full time job. So he made meteor hunting his full-time job.

“It’s just about being ready to get up and go when you fall and get there first. And after that it’s just a matter of what you know,” Vargas said.

He said he had a group of friends watching radar returns, which is just one of many factors he considers when deciding if a meteorite is worth chasing.

One of the factors in this meteor hunt is that the fireball was bright enough to see during the day, which he says usually means it’s a bigger chunk. Vargas said there were also reports of a sonic boom.

He said it’s hard to put a price tag on the meteorites, despite the US$25,000 prize offered by the museum. He said it all depends on the number of kilograms, the type of meteorite and other factors.

If Vargas were to find a meteorite during his hunt this weekend, he would keep a piece for his personal collection, donate 20% to a scientific institution to classify it, and probably give the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum the first dibs on it. . , since he fell in Maine and has a personal connection to Pitt.

He said there was something special about meteor hunting. Even an unsuccessful hunt brings together a group of people who are passionate about it, Vargas said.

But his favorite part is finding a meteorite.

“There’s nothing like the 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 not yet known exactly what the specimens will look like because the first piece has yet to be found. But about 80 to 85 percent 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 some slight indentations, Pitt said. It will likely be a little heavy, he said, and contain metal, which means a magnet would have to stick to it.

Pitt said the experience of searching for a meteorite alone is a great way to spend the day.

“Help science, get outside and be able to get one in your hand, then look up in the sky and realize it’s from between Mars and Jupiter,” Pitt said.

“A rather thrilling experience.”

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