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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.