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Meteorite Hunters Recover Fragments of Fireball That Exploded Over Michigan

Amateurs and professionals comb snowy landscapes for shards of the exploded meteor

Astronomer Todd Slisher unfolds tin-foil to reveal a piece of stony-iron meteorite during a press conference, Friday, January 19, 2018, at the Longway Planetarium in Flint, Michigan. (Associated Press)
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Last week, a brilliant fireball lit up the skies over Michigan, exploding some 20 miles high in a ground-shaking blast. The space rock scattered in fragments across Hamburg Township, drawing meteorite hunters from all over in search if the fragments.

A team of professional meteorite hunters from Arizona—Larry Atkins, Robert Ward and Darryl Landry—found the first fragments of the rock on a Michigan Lake last Thursday, Elizabeth Howell writes for Space.com. To pinpoint the locations, the trio used a variety of methods, including seismic data, Doppler radar and descriptions from witnesses.

"It looked like a perfect black charcoal briquette, with a little snowdrift on top," Atkins tells Howell. The fragments the team recovered were all hand-sized or smaller, weighing between 20 and 100 grams. These are just the latest finds for the team, who have located hundreds of fragments over the years, Veronica Meadows reports for NBC 25 News.

Meteorite fragments have also been located by Longway Planetarium astronomers who used home security camera footage and geometry to calculate likely debris zones, Bob King reports for Sky and Telescope. The team of five had several false alarms—including a “frozen feces” find—before they discovered their first fragment.

“I tapped it out of the snow with my gloves,” planetarium executive director Todd Slisher tells King. “We oohed and aahed over it then high-fived and fist-bumped before I wrapped it up in foil and put it in a plastic bag.” It was Siler’s first time finding a meteorite fragment, and enough to encourage the team to keep hunting and recover two more fragments.

In hopes of encouraging more people to hunt for pieces of the meteorite​, Darryl Pitt, meteorite consultant with Christie’s auction house, is offering a $20,000 bounty on a large recovered fragment weighing at least 2.2 pounds. “I want to motivate more people to look,” says Pitt, Associated Press  reports. “Meteorites are extraordinarily rare and the world is just coming to terms with how special they are.”

Shooting stars or meteors are pieces of space rock or dust that enter Earth's atmosphere, igniting due to the intensity of friction. Those that make it to our planet's surface are known as meteorites. Almost all of these fragments are thought to be remnants from the early days of solar system formation. These meteorites offer a unique possibility of studying this time of early planetary evolution, particularly when researchers can study fresh fragments that are not yet weathered or altered by prolonged exposure to Earth's environment.

Landry is driven to hunt meteorites from the desire to uncover a rare and scientifically valuable objects using everyday tools, logic, and patience. “You as a person with a little information and a little willpower can go out and look and lift and pick things up you're doing something NASA spends billions to do,” he tells Meadows.

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