The Fearless Meteorite Hunters of Saskatchewan

After a 10-ton meteor exploded in a spectacular fireball over the Canadian province Saskatchewan two weeks ago, the hunt was on to find fragments of the space rock. Researchers and local enthusiasts descended on the area around Marsden, Sask, and have found dozens of fragments like the one pictured here - discovered on an icy lake by Calgary graduate student Ellen Milley. Already, the researchers have learned a lot from the recovered meteorite bits.

Because Saskachewan is so cold and dry, the mineral composition of the rocks is fairly well-preserved, and scientists say they're fairly certain it's from an asteroid that had a high iron content. Milley located the first fragments of fire-blackened rock on the ice after researchers triangulated its probable location from security cameras and eyewitnesses.

Another Calgary researcher, Alan Hildebrand, is in search of information about the meteor's trajectory - that information could prove invaluable if we're hoping to prevent mega-hits from bigger rocks. According to New Scientist:

For Hildebrand, the real payoff is the likelihood that an accurate orbit can be calculated for the object, allowing researchers to trace its trajectory back to a point of origin somewhere in the asteroid belt. So far, only nine meteorites have known orbits.

"It's a magnificent accomplishment," says Rick Binzel of MIT. "Tracing the orbit of a meteorite tells us where it formed. Combining [the rock's orbit and composition] pins down a specific record of the earliest conditions for planet formation at a precise location."

As for Milley, her main concern as she continues the hunt for fragments is telling bits of meteorite apart from cow patties.

Meteorite Hunters Hit Paydirt on Canadian Prairie [via New Scientist]