- Scientists are working to unlock the secrets of a billions-of-years-old
chunk of space metal found in a Hagersville farmer's field. Almost certainly
a meteorite, the 30-kilogram chunk of iron, nickel and other minerals is
most likely to have started life as the core of a small doomed planet formed
early in the history of our solar system.
- Meteorites are the only direct evidence, apart from lunar
samples, of the composition of matter outside Earth. They are gifts from
the solar system and important in the study of how it was formed.
- Richard Herd, curator of the National Meteoric Collection
of Canada at Natural Resources Canada, says only 58 meteorites have been
identified in Canada since 1842. Most of the 10,000 tonnes of debris regularly
floating in space either burns up during its fiery passage through the
atmosphere or falls into the Earth's oceans to lie forever undisturbed.
- "The chances of finding one are relatively rare,"
- The rock was discovered two years ago by Hagersville
farmer Joseph Mahe while removing rocks that had emerged in his fields
after the winter freeze.
- It wasn't long before the heavy, rusty-coloured lump
with its distinctive dimpling -- much like finger marks in rising dough
-- was identified as a possible meteorite.
- Brantford teacher Tom Holmes, the Mahe's son-in-law and
an amateur rock collector, took the rock to be identified at a mineral
show in Bancroft. A slice was removed for analysis by experts in the meteor
group of the physics and astronomy department at the University of Western
Ontario. The group is one of very few university departments to undertake
- Results of the analysis are expected to be made public
at the Mahe farm on June 2. The tests involve neutron activation, which
means taking a small amount of the material and radiating it to find out
what trace elements are present. This could give clues to where the meteorite
came from and when it fell to earth.
- Herd believes the Mahe find is probably a new, sizeable
Canadian meteorite belonging to a class of irons called octahedrites. "But
until we get that analytical work, we can't say exactly what it is."
- Meteorites can come from the moon and the asteroid belt,
perhaps even Mars, but they are different from meteors -- known as shooting
stars --which are the brief streaks of light resulting from a particle
entering the earth's upper atmosphere. These particles, while producing
the famous meteor showers, rarely survive passage through the earth's atmosphere.
- Meteorites, on the other hand, are metallic fragments
that do survive entry and then literally fall to earth. If they are seen
falling -- often as bright fireballs -- they are called meteorite falls.
Those which fall unseen and are found later, such as the Hagersville meteorite,
are called meteorite finds.
- But Herd cautions against jumping to conclusions. Only
one in 1,000 suspected meteorites actually turn out to be direct from space.
Some have 'travelled' -- been discovered and moved and then lost again,
only to be "discovered' a second time. Others can turn out to be parts
of another already discovered meteorite.
- "It sure looks like an iron meteorite," says
Herd. "But we've had people pull all kinds of junk out of fields and
wonder how it got there."
- Since 1994 there have been three recorded meteorite "falls"
in Canada, including St. Robert de Sorel, near Montreal and in 1998 on
to a Kitchener golf course. In the 19th century meteorites were also discovered
in Welland and Decewsville, which is just west of Cayuga.
- A 19th century report by the Rochester Academy of Science
tells how the Decewsville meteor fell to earth on January, 21, 1887 at
2 p.m., landing in a water-filled ditch and narrowly missing a Mrs. Leonard
Strohm, who happened to be walking nearby.
- You can contact Kate Barlow at email@example.com
or by telephone at 905-526-3408.
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