Darryl Pitt couldn’t help but be excited when he heard a bright fireball had penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere over New Brunswick late Saturday morning.

His excitement grew when Doppler radar detected meteorites descending from the sky. And now the search is on in rural Washington County, where chunks of cosmic debris are waiting to be found by hunters eager to recover them.

“There’s a very good likelihood that whatever is recovered could be worth its weight in gold,” said Pitt, chair of the meteorite division at the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel.

The museum is offering a $25,000 reward for the first 1-kilogram meteorite recovered. It also will purchase other specimens it verifies as real to add to its extensive meteorite collection.

But finding them is the hard part, especially in heavily forested places like Maine.

It’s not uncommon for people to spot fireballs streaking across the sky. The American Meteor Society tracks fireballs worldwide and last year recorded reports of 500 fireball events in the United States alone.


But recovering meteorites after a witnessed fireball is much rarer, and only happens about seven to 10 times each year worldwide. Last year, five meteorites were recovered following a witnessed fireball.

The fireball on Saturday was spotted by people in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, according to reports from the meteor society.

“When a fireball is sufficiently bright to be seen in broad daylight, it would have been extraordinarily bright had this been a night,” said Pitt, who is such a big fan of the celestial rocks that he bought a car just because it was hit by one.

A chondrite, a type of unmodified meteorite, on display at the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel. Photo by Maine Mineral and Gem Museum

The meteorite fall occurred at 11:56 a.m. and was followed by loud sonic booms near Calais, according to NASA, which confirmed this was the first radar-observed meteorite fall seen in Maine. Four radar sweeps recorded signatures consistent with falling meteorites during a span of 4 minutes, 40 seconds, a relatively short observation time, the agency said.

NASA says those meteorites fell directly into winds of up to around 100 mph, carrying smaller pieces across the border into Canada.

Typically the strewn field – the term for the elliptical-shaped area of debris where meteorites land – stretches roughly 10 miles long and 2 miles wide, but those dimensions can change based on the wind conditions and the material that fell from the sky. Meteorites often are made of rare combinations of elements or metals such as iron and nickel that help researchers gather new information about the Earth, the solar system and sometimes other planets.


In this case, the strewn field is expected to be about a mile wide and extend from just north of the town of Waite (population 66) and over the border to Canoose, New Brunswick. Having the radar returns “changed the game” for meteorite hunters who have already traveled to Washington County to search, Pitt said.

Back in 2016, Pitt was among the meteorite hunters who headed to Rangeley to search for pieces after a fireball was caught on video streaking across the sky in western Maine. Scientists used video footage, seismic data and wind conditions to determine meteorites may have landed north of the Rangeley Lake region. But that area was especially hard to search and none was recovered.

“It’s simplest if it goes through someone’s roof. It’s more challenging when you get into environments that are less hospitable,” Pitt said, noting most meteorites fall into the ocean or uninhabited areas.

There are a few helpful clues to determine if a meteorite is a meteorite or just a regular rock. According to NASA, the distinguishing characteristics of a meteorite are a black, glassy or ashy fusion crust, irregular shape and magnetism. Meteorites are notably heavy for their size and most contain iron. They do not have crystals, bubbles, holes or streaks and are almost never round.

The market for meteorites is hot right now – last week, a piece of jewelry made with lunar meteorites sold for more than $200,000 – but so is the desire to quickly recover them for scientific research.

Pitt believes international media coverage of the high auction prices is a catalyst for a new generation of meteorite hunters and shows about meteorites.

“It’s an amazing experience to have something in your hand and to be able to look up in the sky at exactly where it came from,” he said. “It’s something that makes us all a little more humble, a little more appreciative and a little more grateful.”

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