Life-long interest in meteorites pays off for B.C. woman
July 31, 2006, The first new meteorite identified in Canada this year is also one of the smallest ever found in the country and is the highlight of a British Columbia woman’s life-long interest in space rocks, after she discovered the specimen in 1968.
The University of Calgary-based Prairie Meteorite Search has confirmed that a weathered chunk of iron Renee Johnson picked up while hunting for Christmas trees with her husband near Prince Rupert, B.C. nearly 38 years ago is of extra-terrestrial origin.
“I first picked it up because I noticed the unusual shape like an arrowhead, but when I held it I felt how dense it was,” Johnson said. “When I was a little girl of about eight in The Netherlands, I remember my father telling me that you will always know a meteorite because it is heavy for its size. I always kept it and showed it to people, saying that I had found something unusual.”
The identification was made by Adrian Karolko, the Prairie Meteorite Searcher for 2006, when Johnson brought it to a show-and-tell in Kelowna, where she now lives, on July 19. “The shape of the rock was very distinctive even though it was weathered,” Karolko said. “It is amazing that she kept it for so long. I really didn’t expect that I would identify a meteorite this summer, but it turned out to be easy.”
The meteorite is five centimeters long and weighs only 40 grams.
Johnson’s meteorite is the fifth meteorite identified from British Columbia and the province’s first meteorite “find.” (Meteorites are classified as “falls” when pieces are found after a fireball is witnessed, or “finds” when it isn’t seen.) It is the 69th meteorite recovered in Canada, and marks the modest milestone of being the 10th new meteorite discovered by the Prairie Meteorite Search since it began in 2000. The Prairie Search has now identified approximately 15 per cent of all the meteorites ever found in Canada.
Karolko took the rock back to the University of Calgary, where Dr. Alan Hildebrand, project leader and holder of a Canada Research Chair in Planetary Science, confirmed its origin by finding abundant nickel in the meteorite’s interior.
“It’s remarkable the way that Renee’s find stretched across her life from being told about them by her father when a young child, to finding it when she was 31, to now having it identified in 2006 six decades after first learning about them,” Hildebrand said.
Dr. Stephen Kissin at Lakehead University will now study the meteorite further to determine its exact composition and classification.
The Prairie Meteorite Search consists of local publicity and visits by the Prairie Meteorite Searcher to towns to show meteorite specimens and to identify possible meteorites brought in by interested rock owners. Adrian Karolko is currently organizing more shows across southern British Columbia before returning to his studies at the University of Calgary in September.
“I’ve had a great turnout so far, and encourage everyone with a rock that they are wondering about to bring it in,” Karolko said. “We are sure that many more people have found meteorites that haven’t yet been identified and studied.”
The Prairie Meteorite Search is funded by The Canadian Space Agency, Conoco Phillips Canada and an Undergraduate Research Award from NSERC held by Adrian Karolko. The Prairie Meteorite Search is led by Hildebrand, Dr. Peter Brown from the University of Western Ontario and Dr. Martin Beech from Campion College at the University of Regina. They are all members of the Meteorites and Impacts Advisory Committee (MIAC) to the Canadian Space Agency. MIAC is Canada’s volunteer group charged with the investigation of fireballs and the recovery of meteorites.
For more information:
Renee Johnson may be contacted at (250) 869-0218.
Prairie Meteorite Searcher Adrian Karolko can be reached at (403) 852-5613.
Dr. Alan Hildebrand can be reached at (403) 220-2291.
Additional information about the Prairie Meteorite Search is available on the project’s website: www.geo.ucalgary.ca/PMSearch/
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