Irish meteor hunters, here are 5 steps to finding a meteorite

28 Apr 2015

Those on the island of Ireland who may have spotted a giant flare-like streak in the sky were intrigued to discover that it was in fact a rare meteorite, pieces of which could be worth thousands of euro to its finders.

Perhaps even more eyebrow-raising for meteorite hunters is that the very rare event – approximately twice a year – is so unusual that each piece of the meteorite could be worth 10 times the price of gold at its current rate, which could put it as high as €10,000 per piece.

According to David Moore of Astronomy Ireland, the best guess as to where it landed is most likely in the north of the island and he is now calling on every camera that may have recorded the incident sometime around 10.10pm on Sunday, 26 April to bring forth their footage to better locate the smoking piece of space debris.

1. Finding a potential spot

Meteor hunting isn’t just a treasure hunt, but a scientific expedition that needs exact detail in order to find where the meteorite may have landed. While we know that it landed somewhere in the north of the island, with the help of trajectory calculations, the prospector needs to identify the meteorite’s ‘dark flight’, which is the part of its fall when it slows to a speed of between 3-4km per second when its bright tail vanishes from sight. If this can be located, it can narrow down the potential landing site significantly given that it would likely fall soon after its dark flight.

2. Make sure you have permission before jumping in a field

Given that there’s a lot of farmland across this island, most patches of grass in the countryside are likely to belong to a farmer or group of farmers. The one thing to be certain of is that if a meteorite falls onto the grounds of someone’s estate, they don’t have the legal right to ownership of a large chunk of space debris, so once permission is sought, legal possession falls to the finder. It’s probably best not to make them aware of its potential value, however… Sheep in an Irish field An Irish field with sheep image via Giuseppe Milo/Flickr

3. Get a good metal detector … and know how to use it

It might seem obvious to run to the nearest store that might sell metal detectors and pick one up to begin a hunt, but it’s much more complicated than that. Given the complexity of minerals that make up meteorites, it’s simply not possible to just move a metal detector around a field, as would be seen in movies, as a specific type of metal detector is needed to find one. According to metal detector enthusiasts, it is vital that, when searching for meteorites, the detector’s iron discriminator is switched off to better locate iron-laden meteorites, while gold-prospecting metal detectors are also good at locating the space debris. Man using metal detector Metal detector image via Shutterstock

4. Get your meteor verified by a mineralogist

Given that it’s likely that many people in Ireland are not experts in minerals, it’s probably safe to say that should someone discover what they believe to be a piece of the recent meteorite crash, it’s best to take it to someone who could actually determine whether it is from terra firma or outer space. For preliminary tests, however, it might be a good idea to bring a magnet to see whether the rock is magnetic given that the typical meteorite contains between 10-30pc iron. However, magnetism does not mean it’s a meteorite, rather that it’s increased the likelihood of it being from space. Likewise, if the sample is ground slightly, does it reveal a metallic silver substance inside? This is one of the tell-tale signs as to whether a rock is just a rock, or an ancient meteorite. Interior of a meteorite Interior of a meteorite image via PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE/Flickr

5. Science over personal gain?

So you’ve discovered a meteorite, congratulations! But while your thoughts might be on where you’re going to install your new swimming pool, make sure to alert organisations, such as Astronomy Ireland, of your find so as they can analyse the sample with the hope of maybe finding something that could prove beneficial to our understanding of the wider universe. Astronomy Ireland is currently looking for as many reports as possible from eyewitnesses and potential discoverers of the meteorite fragments so take this into account if you are lucky enough to stumble across them.

Main meteorite image via Damien du Toit/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic