University of Alberta cameras capture rare meteorite

by Phoebe Dey of University of Alberta

More articles in Solar System

A University of Alberta camera captured a photograph of a blazing fireball, which may provide clues to finding a rare meteorite.

"If we could find the remains of the meteorite, it would be quite significant, not simply because it's another meteorite but because we would have the potential for determining its trajectory before it struck the earth," said U of A physics professor, Dr. Doug Hube. "We might be able to learn where in the solar system it came from."

The camera on the rooftop observatory on the U of A physics building captured the image moving from the southwest horizon to the northwest for about seven seconds at 5:10 a.m. early Wednesday morning. Hube and Martin Connors from Athabasca University are analysing the tape and using eyewitness reports to do a geometric triangulation, which will determine a more specific area to find the meteorite.

Videotape from the U of A's cameras is considered the final authority. The cameras, on loan from Sandia Labs in New Mexico, record images of the sky 24 hours a day. About once a year, the cameras capture something worth following up, said Hube. The camera is mounted above a hemispherical mirror, which allows researchers to monitor the entire sky at one time.

Scientists have only been able to pinpoint the origins of a meteorite six times. If this latest meteorite can be found, it will offer insight to its celestial beginnings and teach us more about the larger environment we live in.

"Meteorites are the building blocks of the planets," said Hube. "They can give us clues about circumstances in this corner of the universe 4.5 billion years ago. Understanding them gives us a broader picture to understand the formation of the solar system, to understand the formation of planets."

The University of Alberta's Earth and Atmospheric Sciences department boasts a meteorite collection second only to the national one in Ottawa. It is comprised of more than 130 different meteorites--13 from meteorite falls and finds in Alberta. Only 50 meteorites have been found in Canada.

The U of A in Edmonton, Alberta is one of Canada's premier teaching and research universities serving more than 30,000 students with 6,000 faculty and staff. It continues to lead the country with the most 3M Teaching Fellows, Canada's only national award recognizing teaching excellence.