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Catch a falling star and find out where it came from

Media release

Star-gazing cameras have helped a team of scientists from around the world to discover a new meteorite in Western Australia’s Nullarbor Plain.

Funded mainly by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, the research was conducted by scientists from Curtin University, Imperial College, London, Ondrejov Observatory, Czech Republic, and the Western Australian Museum.

Adjunct Professor, Phil Bland, of Curtin University’s Department of Applied Geology, said images from the cameras would help his team to reveal more about the new ‘space rock’s’ chemistry and original orbit in the Solar System.

“Meteorites are like ancient jigsaw puzzle pieces. When we find out where one comes from, it is like putting in another tiny piece of the puzzle, providing insights into the workings of our solar system and how it began billions of years ago,” Professor Bland said.

“We are absolutely over the moon that our camera network has helped us to locate a new meteorite for the second consecutive year.”

According to Professor Bland, finding the meteorite has helped to support the theory that asteroids provided the building blocks for terrestrial planets when the Solar System was forming.

“Meteorites are a geological record of the formation of the Solar System, providing important information about early conditions,” he said.

“Locating where they come from is important, because it enables scientists to link geological information to the correct location in space.

“However, information about where individual meteorites originated and how they moved around the Solar System before falling to Earth is rare.”

Professor Bland said scientists currently knew the origins of only a dozen of the 1100 documented meteorite falls over the past 200 years.

“The cameras each take a time-lapse picture every night to record any meteorites which can be identified from the fireballs they form as they travel through Earth’s atmosphere,” he said.

The cameras are accurate, enabling the researchers to pinpoint the most recent meteorite to within 150 metres from where it had landed.

If a meteorite fireball is detected on the film, the Ondrejov Observatory team, led by Dr Pavel Spurny, measure and reduce all available records and perform calculations to get precise information about the atmospheric trajectory of the fireball.
Imperial College climatic models are also used to predict what orbit the meteorite was following and where the meteorite is likely to have landed, so they can retrieve it.

By using networks of cameras to locate meteorites on Earth, Professor Bland said the research could supplement and provide a low-cost alternative to expensive space missions.

Contacts:

Professor Philip Bland
Adjunct Professor, Dept of Applied Geology, West Australian School of Mines
Email: p.bland@curtin.edu.au  

Professor Roland De Marco
Associate Deputy Vice-Chancellor, DVC Research & Development, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 2155; Email: r.demarco@curtin.edu.au

Andrea Barnard, Public Relations, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 4241, Mobile: 0401 103 532, Email: andrea.barnard@curtin.edu.au  

Web: http://curtin.edu.au