In DepthPlanetary Science

All eyes on shooting stars

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Science  19 Sep 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6203, pp. 1437-1438
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6203.1437

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Summary

Some meteorites announce themselves to the world with a fireball, a sonic boom, and havoc on the ground. But countless others plummet to Earth unseen. A few may be picked up eventually by meteorite hunters, but most are lost to time. Last week, at the annual meeting of the Meteoritical Society in Morocco, scientists explained how they are bettering the odds of catching falling space rocks in the act. They are expanding automated camera networks that monitor meteorites' initial fiery descent. Weather radar is also playing an increasingly important role in charting a fall's final stages, and its use has begun to allow hunters to narrow their search to patches as small as a square kilometer. Scientists who study meteorites are always eager for more samples, but by following a meteorite as it enters the atmosphere, scientists can also learn how big the original rock was and what orbit it followed. And the smaller search areas can help hunters snap up falls while the meteorites, and the mineralogical clues they carry about the history of the solar system, are uncontaminated. All this could eventually make retrieving meteorite fragments routine and efficient, and the old way would be history. But for now, researchers still thrill to the chase.

  • * in Casablanca, Morocco