Nothing gets your attention quite like a meteor screaming in at 40 miles a second.
- By Tony Reichhardt
- Air & Space magazine, May 2009
Phil Bland/Imperial College London
(Page 3 of 3)
Scientists aren't the only ones interested in more efficient searches: The total haul of meteorites from a "witnessed" fall can be worth tens of thousands of dollars on the collectors' market. Meteorite hunters now know it's possible to predict fireballs. And maybe next time they'll get more than 20 hours' notice.
In that case, says Wayne Hally, a New Jersey-based coordinator for the North American Meteor Network, "many dozens of people would get in their cars and start driving." Among them would likely be McCartney Taylor, a collector in Austin, Texas, who says that such predictions, if they become routine, will "change the meteorite business. We're going to have to pre-deploy if we're going to beat other guys to the fall."
Robert Jedicke of the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy is in charge of asteroid observations for Pan-STARRS, a new telescope network headquartered in Hawaii that will provide fast, frequent sky surveys. Pan-STARRS will outperform today's asteroid searches, but, says Jedicke, finding objects as small as 2008 TC3 on a collision course with Earth is "not going to be something that happens all the time. It's a very rare occurrence. We're going to need bigger telescopes covering much more of the sky on a regular basis."
Bigger survey telescopes are planned. Clark Chapman, who studies asteroids at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, predicts that by the 2020s, the next generation of asteroid surveys will have tracked a quarter-million orbiting objects 16 feet in diameter—not much bigger than 2008 TC3.
For now, though, the Sudan meteor remains unique: the first object ever tracked from space all the way to its demise in the atmosphere. Robert Haag of Tucson, Arizona, the self-proclaimed "Meteorite Man," knows that for this reason alone any meteorites it dropped would be valuable—if he could only get to them. The trouble is, they fell on the edge of Darfur, one of the most dangerous places on the planet. A University of Khartoum team has since reported finding meteorites, but at the time of our talk in December, Haag doesn't know their location. And he's mulling over his chances of getting there first. In fact, even as we talk, he's got Google Maps up on his computer screen, scouting for train stations near where 2008 TC3 fell.
Air & Space senior editor Tony Reichhardt wrote about the search for Apollo artifacts on the moon (Aug./Sept. 2008). He's never seen a fireball, but if a meteorite lands anywhere near his home in Fredericksburg, Virginia, he'll be among the first to jump in his car and go looking.