INNOVATION

Desert Fireball Network Hunts Freshly Fallen Meteorites

With nicknames like 'Galaxy Girl', citizen scientists scour the skies for blazing space rocks.

22/11/2016 10:39 AM AEDT | Updated 22/11/2016 5:49 PM AEDT
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Getty Images/Science Photo Library RM
Meteorites are more than shooting stars.

Galaxy Girl saw it first -- a blazing light outside her lounge room window.

"I saw a beautiful fireball flash across the northern sky," Galaxy Girl aka Stargazers Club of WA founder Carol Redford said.

She filed a report on the NASA-linked Fireballs In The Sky citizen science app and Curtin University's Desert Fireball Network raced to their series of cameras dotted across the desert to see if they could spot it.

Sure enough, they found three of their cameras had captured evidence of the fireball.

Now, the race was on to find the suspected meteorite before it became contaminated by earth's rain, wind and dust.

Welcome to the world of desert fireball chasing.

Desert Fireball Network
The guys found a meteorite.

Curtin University professor of planetary science Phil Bland said there was a sophisticated network trying to catch meteorites.

"Finding them's the fun part," Bland told HuffPost Australia.

"We've spent about four and a half years setting up this network of observatories that take 30-second exposures all throughout the night.

"Then we've got loads and loads of data and modelling to triangulate where meteorites might land taking into account changes in atmospheric pressure and wind that might change its course.

"You do all this stuff and then it essentially comes down to a treasure hunt. It's often a bit scary because you want to prove everything works.

"Often they land in dense bush but this time it was farm land so it was easy."

Is my rock a meteorite?

Bland said meteorites mostly had a few similar characteristics:

Rounded edges

Matte black in colour

Denser than an ordinary rock

He said these little rocks could hold hints about the biggest questions in the universe.

"The goal with all of this is to try and get a better idea of the processes that happened in the early days of the solar system -- right at the beginning when it was just dust and gas.

Desert Fireball Network
You can see the fireball in this long exposure.

"Loads and loads of processes went on to create this stable system we have today containing a planet that sustains life and what's fascinating is we don't really understand many of them.

"We don't really know where these rocks come from exactly so we want to find the meteorites themselves, but also find out where in the solar system they've come from."

Their last meteorite was found on New Year's Eve and this one fell on Halloween. Bring on Christmas, fireball chasing wise men (and women)!

Download the app that lets you log fireballs for researchers like Bland to find.

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