Friday, April 16, 2010

Exclusive Interview With Wisconsin Meteor Professor

APRIL 16, 2010 - by Tom Mannis - PROFESSOR JOHN VALLEY IS HAVING A VERY GOOD WEEK. First, the skies over Southern Wisconsin were lit up Wednesday night by a very bright and apparently rather large meteor. The following morning, Prof. Valley and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Department of Geoscience received a gift from the heavens. Literally.

As Prof. Valley told Chicago News Bench this afternoon, "a land owner" personally delivered and donated a "peanut-sized" piece of that meteor to them the on Thursday morning. Pieces of meteors are called meteorites, and Prof. Valley seems 99.99 percent convinced that this is the real thing.

The land owner told Prof. Valley that he heard the meteorite strike his roof on Wednesday night. Although the object is only "7.5 grams, about the size of a peanut in the shell," is was moving at high speed. Additionally, there may well have been other pieces of the same meteor falling on the roof at the same moment.

The land owner wishes to remain anonymous, and Prof. Valley would not even say whether or not the person was a farmer (but he did refer to the land owner as "he" and "him"). The land is near Livingston, Wisconsin (map).

What makes Prof. Valley so certain that this meteorite comes from the Wednesday evening meteor is its pristine condition. "Weathering, like rusting, was virtually non-existent on this meteorite," he told CNB.

He explained that meteors traveling through space are constantly bathed in cosmic rays (fast positive ions), which impart short-lived radioactivity to the space rocks. Once a meteor is inside of the Earth's protective Inner Radiation Belt, and then within our atmosphere, a meteor stops being irradiated by cosmic rays. Scientists can tell how long a meteorite has been on our planet by its "exposure age," Prof. Valley said, "which is a half-life meausurement of trace amounts of short-lived radioactivity imparted by cosmic rays." The radiation from the meteorites is not enough to be dangerous to humans.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin and other institutions are in a rush to comb the Southern Wisconsin countryside for more meteorites from Wednesday night's event. Prof. Valley said that "it's a time sensitive process," because growing vegetation, flooding and other factors can quickly make it more difficult to find the little objects.

If you are interested in looking for meteorits, you should know that it's illegal to trespass on private property or to take anything off of somebody's land without permission. That includes rocks, even if they came from outer space. Prof. Valley said that he and his colleagues always execute "a contract and/or monetary payment" with a land owner when it comes to searching for meteorites on private property.

Meteorites sell on the open market by the gram and can be quite valuable. Price can vary greatly depending on the type of meteorite and its composition. Meteorites from Mars, for example, are the most valuable and also the rarest. "I encourage to bring it to knowledgeable experts before they sell it," said Prof. Valley.

Prof. Valley said that his department has received calls from other people in Southern Wisconsin who think they might have a meteorite from the Wednesday night fireball. He did not say whether they offered to donate the meteorites or merely have them appraised.

UW Has Meteorite Fragment
Meteorite Found in Wisconsin
Videos of the Midwest Fireball...
The Inner Radiation Belt
Meteoroids and Meteorites
How do you know if it's a meteorite?

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