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(All photos courtesy of & copyrighted by Geoffrey Notkin; used with permission).
A confession; I’ve always wanted to own a space rock. I suspect I’m not alone in this desire in the astronomical community, a realm where we must resign ourselves to observing what we love from afar. It was this yearning that led me to pick up one of the very few pieces of jewelry that I own from a Discovery Store in Anchorage, Alaska; a meteorite fashioned into a guitar pick. Here was a perfect melding of two passions in my life; music & space.
Author and meteorite hunter Geoffrey Notkin shares those same passions as well. We recently had a chance to read his latest book, Rock Star: Adventures of a Meteorite Man and interview the author. Geoff has led a remarkable life of transitions, noting a “cyclical pattern in my life with rocks, geology, astronomy, music…” He was literally “there in ‘77” when the original wave of U.K. punk rock took off and enjoyed a long run with such bands The Marines, the Ex-Execs, Proper Id & the Big Picture both in England and later in New York City. He now calls Tucson, Arizona home, and his television series Meteorite Men with fellow host Steve Arnold just wrapped up a successful three season run. The book covers his early life, the show, and off course, hunting for meteorites worldwide. This is Mr. Notkin’s second book (the first being Meteorite Hunting: How to Find a Treasure from Space which recently won a 2012 IPPY Award) and he maintains an active forum for space rock hunters at Club Space Rock.
The author with a meteorite displaying ablation “thumbprints” known as regmaglypts.
We asked Geoff during the recent interview how his approach to meteorite hunting has changed over the years. He noted that there has been a definite shift from his exploits outlined early on in the book, and equipment, approach and tactics are all dictated by situation. Like Thunderbirds in the old British TV series, their bags and specialized pods of gear are always packed, and whenever there’s a fall, the Meteorite Men are ready. As their techniques have become more sophisticated, they’ve even enlisted high tech gear, such as the Doppler radar used at Ash Creek, Texas in 2009 to plot cloud debris of a recent fall.
Geoff Notkin scouring a strewn field in Chile.
Mr. Notkin is always careful to conduct ethical meteorite hunting with the “right intentions,” noting that the science always comes first. Mr. Notkin stated that such “pro bono meteorite hunting” is still a good experience, although it “Hurts a bit, but I go into it knowing that we’re doing important work, promoting a symbiotic relationship with science, universities, etc.”
“We are extremely supportive of science first & business second” Mr. Notkin said, always being careful to assure that “the data is not pilfered.”
He further stated that most land owners are welcoming and curious of their cause, and the Meteorite Men are always careful and meticulous in drawing up fair contracts with the land owners before beginning a hunt.
Have metal detector will travel!
What was his favorite meteorite hunt? Mr. Notkin cited Season Two, Episode 8 in Australia exploring the Henbury craters. It was noted during the interview that another Australian crater was discovered a few years ago on Google Earth. Henbury is a series of 15 craters around 4,500 years old located in the Australian outback. One of our faves was watching the Meteorite Men explore the Monturaqui crater in Chile… it must amazing to have such a pristine crater all to yourself, without a Starbucks or gift shop to be seen, or at least not yet!
And speaking of manmade debris, we were also interested to hear what the coolest “Meteor wrong” was they’d uncovered in their exploits. During the episode on the Tucson ring shot in the Santa Rita Mountains, the boys came across various frontier era revolvers. The area has also been used for target practice by the military over the years, and they once found a complete air-to-air missile buried in the area!
We were also curious if there were some areas of the globe that they were still interesting in scouring. Geoff noted that he was currently interested in the 2010 Gebel Kamil fall in Egypt. We wondered if the current trend of global warming may be opening up new meteorite finds in glacial fields; Mr. Notkin mentioned that they were close to green-lighting an episode in Greenland, but the local government didn’t grant them approval. This would be a fascinating area of study, as explorer Robert Peary discovered that the Inuit had iron tools thought to come from the Cape York meteorite fall in the 1800’s.
We were also interested to know if meteorite sniffing dogs had ever been employed, and Mr. Notkin confirmed that yes, in one episode, a dog had been credited with one small find. He also noted that there has been at least one documented instance of a meteorite having a smell similar to vinegar. That particular meteorite was a carbonaceous chondrite recovered from the 1969 Murchison Fall.
Mr. Notkin advises “patience & determination…” for beginning meteorite hunters. He gets frequent fan mail asking: “how do I do this?” along with the very occasional claim from rival hunters that they “reveal too much!” Yes, there is a bit of rivalry in the world of meteorite hunting, and the author notes in the book and the TV series that mis-information on strewn fields and the like can often be spread in an effort to throw rivals off track.
Being a backyard amateur astronomer & satellite spotter by trade, we were interested to know if they had ever chased a fall that turned out to be reentering space junk. The author noted that they usually wait a bit after a reported fall until more information trickles in, and that reentering satellites often glow a characteristic green due to the melting copper wiring!
And speaking of spurious reports, the author noted that this week being the Perseid meteors they can typically expect 1 to 5 false reports in the days following the shower. Unlike meteorites, meteor showers are composed of cometary debris; no fall has ever been linked to a parent meteor shower. Still, there are coincidences, such as the Sutter’s Mill Fall in California which occurred during the Lyrid meteor shower early this year. The author notes that for a fall to have occurred close by, a fireball typically has to be seen nearly overhead, preferably with an accompanying sonic boom. Appearing lower than 45° degrees in the sky lends credence to a fall occurring far away from the observer.
It was fascinating to talk to Mr. Notkin; do search out his books and series at their website MeteoriteHunters.TV another book he had recommended that now on our “must track down” list is Michelle Maurette’s Hunting for Stars… Could there be space rocks in your backyard?