Meteorites Fall On Battle Mountain, Nevada

Meteorite hunters (from left) Moni Waiblinger, Dave Gheesling and Bob Verish. At right is a closeup of the first meteorite found from the Battle Mountain, Nevada fall. It weighs 19.25 grams.  Left image courtesy D. Gheesling, right photo credit: Bob Verish and Moni Waiblinger

Battle Mountain in north central Nevada is an out of the way place halfway between Reno and Salt Lake City. Home to about 3,700 people, the city’s biggest industry is gold mining. With gold prices climbing in recent years, the town’s done well for itself between mining and legalized gambling. It also got lucky in a game of cosmic roulette on August 21, when a large fireball was observed southwest of town that turned night into day. Sonic booms were heard for miles around and the chance for finding meteorites looked good.

A very fresh 20.3 gram meteorite found by hunter Greg Hupe. It’s covered by black fusion crust that formed as the exterior millimeter or two of the rock melted during its plummet through the atmosphere. Credit: Greg Hupe

Using weather radar data, meteorite hunters were able to pinpoint locations to begin searching for precious space rocks. Now they’re picking up the pieces. On September 1 Moni Waiblinger and Bob Verish found the first meteorite from the fall, a stony variety weighing 19.25 grams (3/4 ounce) that showed a mixed texture of metal and stone typical of an H-chondrite, the most common type of meteorite known. H stands for “high metal”. Slice one open and numerous bits of iron-nickel give these stones a distinctive metallic shimmer when held to the light.

The scene in the mountains around Battle Mountain, Nevada as hunters methodically cover ground in their search for meteorites from the August 21 fall. Credit: Greg Hupe

While the meteorite may or may not be rare – that depends on a chemical analysis – it’s a very exciting find for Bob and Moni, since it’s the first ever observed Nevada meteorite fall to be recovered. There are plenty of Nevada meteorites known, but all were found long after they fell. If someone witnessed them, we don’t have records. Some of the more poetically-named Nevada meteorite discoveries over the years include Beer Bottle Pass found in 1999, Jungo 001 in 2007 and Starvation Flat in 2002. By convention, meteorites are named after nearby towns or geographic features. With the fewest cities in the U.S., it’s no surprise geography rules when it comes to naming Nevada space rocks.

A very happy Robert Ward with a 2.1 lb Battle Mountain meteorite he acquired from someone who witnessed the fall and found the meteorite based on tips he got from Ward. Click to see more photos. Credit: Dave Gheesling

More hunters have joined or are joining the search as I write this, and more meteorites have been found. At the moment, the count stands at about 8. The biggest rock recovered to date was a 954 gram beast (2.1 lbs) acquired by ace meteorite hunter Robert Ward. He gave instructions and showed photos of meteorites to an individual who witnessed the fall. That person went out that very night with a flashlight and found the meteorite within the hour! Ward has since found a couple other specimens on his own as have several other hunters now in the area. More are there waiting to be picked up by those with good eyes, lots of patience and a good pair of hiking boots.

The Australian meteorite named Cook 007 is a typical H-chondrite with shiny flecks of pure iron-nickel metal that glimmer in the light. Photo: Bob King

If you’re interested in joining the hunt and want to plan exactly where to go based on the radar data, head over to Galactic Analytics and start up a subscription. Or you could drive to Battle Mountain and hang out at the local eatery, where you’re likely to spot a bunch of overly tanned, gritty-looking folks wearing big smiles. The black rocks they carefully remove from bags and treat like celebrities are a dead giveaway you’ve run into the right crowd.

Ten-power closeup of the cut surface of Bob Verish’s meteorite he found at Battle Mountain. The reflective flecks are iron-nickel set in a fresh white matrix of olivine and other minerals. You can already see a bit of staining around the metal due to the corrosive effects of Earth’s atmosphere and moisture. Credit: Robert Verish

UPDATE 9/11/12: The meteorite has just been officially classified as a moderately shocked (from previous impacts) L6 chondrite. “L” stands for low-metal; L chondrites contain 20-23% iron with 1-10% of that as visible iron-nickel metal flecks. H chondrites contain 25-30% iron with 15-19% visible iron-nickel.

22 Responses

  1. Richard Keen

    Neat story, Bob – thanks for posting.
    The similarity between the landscape background in Nevada and the pictures from the Curiosity rover on Mars (your preceding article) are striking.

    1. astrobob

      Thanks Richard. I love meteorite stories. You know, you’re not too far away from the fall site. I could put you in touch with folks there if you wanted to hunt. And yes, Mt. Sharp and Battle Mountain do appear to have a few things in common.

  2. Richard Keen

    Bob, it might look close on a map of the solar system, but it’s 800 miles and 13 hours (non stop) on Bing. Sort of like driving to Minneapolis!
    I just got back from a trip to Four Corners area, and spent all day driving from one corner of one state – Colorado – to my home not far from the middle of the state.
    Not only is this Big Sky country, it’s Big Drive country.
    However, a week long vacation/meteorite trip could be fun. Last time I did that was touring west Texas – Big Bend – and stopping by the Odessa crater to troll for meteorites with a magnet. I found a few tiny ones, which I cherish.
    A few months ago when I went to Santa Fe for the annular eclipse, I found some nice shatter cones at an impact feature just north of town. Not quite meteorites, but very closely related.
    Ever gone meteorite hunting up there in the North Woods?

    1. astrobob

      Yes, I drove down to southern Wisconsin in April 2010 to hunt the Mifflin fall. I was going to hunt with Ruben Garcia but that didn’t work out. But I ran into Greg Hupe, Michael Cottingham and a whole bunch of other great people and we walked the corn fields for hours. Got to know how curious cows are, too. I joined Michael the next morning and within a half hour he found a beautiful, fresh stone. I felt certain I’d turn up the next one (we all did) but it wasn’t meant to be. Still, I would go again in a minute if the fall was within driving distance. 13 hours is pushing it though, I agree, especially after just completing another long drive. Did you go to the Alamo impact site to find your shattercones?

      1. Richard Keen

        Hi Bob,
        The impact site is the Santa Fe structure, discovered by Tim McElvain, a retired geologist doing some citizen science. Those guys are the heroes of science these days, much like the folks with the backyard telescopes discovering asteroids and novae.
        Tim’s discovery paper is at:
        I think the way to do a meteorite hunt is to go with some more accomplished hunters, of which there’s several around Denver. Going with a small bunch would reduce cost and driving, and I’d learn something. So, yes, please do put me in touch with those folks in Nevada – they are from Nevada? – and maybe I could work a trip out there sometime. This fall is fairly booked, with a trip Down Under for the eclipse coming up, but there’s years to come. People still find stones at Holbrook and Gold Basin and yes, Odessa, Texas.

        1. astrobob

          Thanks for the link to the paper. Those are exceptional shattercones – and so close to Santa Fe! I agree with you – it’s a good idea to go with accomplished hunters. Cottingham was very skilled in negotiating with landowners about hunting on their property. He would always hammer out an agreement in advance (a percentage in money of the finds at such and such price per gram) and only hunt where we were allowed. I’ll send you Greg Hupe’s e-mail under separate cover if you’d like to contact him.

  3. Gabriel Gonçalves Silva

    Very good article!
    It’s so good and rare to read articles in the internet about meteorites that don’t have any kind of absurd speculation or misunderstandings about them.
    Well, and I’ll keep waiting for a chance to hunt fresh fallen meteorites here in Brazil… 🙂

    1. astrobob

      Thank you Gabriel. I hope you get a chance to hunt for a meteorite soon. Brazil is a big country – somewhere a meteorite must fall there every year. I’m eager to hunt again if the opportunity arises and I don’t have to drive too far from home.

  4. Eric

    I enjoy reading your articles Bob. Also thanks Richard for posting the link to the Santa Fe shatter cones. I’ll be keeping an out for them when out playing in the deserts from now on.

    1. astrobob

      Hey Eric, thanks so much. By the way, my wife and I were planning on going to Santa Fe this past spring but due to unforeseen circumstances, had to cancel the trip. When we make new plans, that shattercone site will also be on our list of things to see.

      1. Richard Keen

        Eric and Bob,
        Enjoy Santa Fe – good food and lots of neat geology – and hope you find some shattercones. I left a few for you there. In your explorations, keep your eyes out for shattercones wherever you see rocks. The Santa Fe site was discovered by a retired geologist who was engaging in a geologist’s favorite hobby, exploring road cuts. He recognized the shattercones for what they were, and we now have another confirmed impact site in the USA.

  5. Vickie and Steve Hagen

    Hi Bob,
    My husband and I saw a magnificent flash across the sky in the McGregor MN area last night at 9pm. Just wondering if you saw or heard about as well!

    vickie and steve

    1. astrobob

      Hi Vickie,
      I was out in northern Wis. but didn’t see it last night. Many others did. It’s been reported on the fireball network. Thanks for sharing your observation.

  6. Guy Hupe

    I enjoyed your comments and the letters from other enthusiastic “hunters”,Greg Hupe’ is my nephew I hope to be with him in Tucson this Jan. Hope to meet you there. Battlemountain article! Regards,happy hunting, Guy Hupe

    1. astrobob

      Hi Guy,
      I’d love to go to Tucson again. Thanks for your comment. I hunted with Greg near Mifflin, Wis. He’s a pro — never gives up!

    1. astrobob

      Hi Deborah,
      I would guess you’ll see Battle Mountain there. If you’re interested in a slice, I know a good person to contact who was out and collected specimens in the field. His name is Michael Cottingham and he’ll be at the show.

  7. Laura

    Who actually witnessed the fall? A Miles Inama has told me this was his find, I’m trying to find an article he claims will verify his story.

Comments are closed.