Mike's Astro Photos
Jul.13 2009

Mason Dixon Meteorite Photo Confirmed by Leading Asteroid Hunter

by , under Mason Dixon Meteor

Leading Near Earth Asteroid Astronomers

Leading Near Earth Asteroid Astronomers

Forwarded conversation
Subject: “Fireball” Image

From: Richard Kowalski
Date: Sun, Jul 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM
To: Mike Hankey
Cc: Kelly Beatty


Kelly Beatty gave me your address.

I would like to inspect your image of the recent fireball a little more closely. I’m not entirely convinced that the object you captured is the fireball, but I believe that a closer examination of the original frame will be informative. Would it be possible for you to send me the original, unprocessed frame?

I will not redistribute or use the image in any way other than a close inspection on my computer and I will delete the image once I have finished my examination.

Thanks for considering my request.

Richard Kowalski
Catalina Sky Survey
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721

From: Mike Hankey
Date: Sun, Jul 12, 2009 at 12:15 AM
To: Richard Kowalski

yes i can send it to you. the main image is over 7 megs… so might be a bit big for email.

what makes you think it might not be the fireball. what would you suggest that it is?

numerous meteor experts have pointed out all sorts of things about the picture that indicate it is a meteor. Including fragments of meteorites that are breaking away from the main body.

I don’t have any problems having you confirm, i’m just interested to know what else you think it could be?

Personally i know it is because I heard the boom and the timing was exact. I also know its not a hoax / fake, but I would be happy to have that proved, cause i don’t expect the scientific community to ‘just trust me’.

Let me figure out how i’m gonna get you the file cause its pretty big.

Are you a professor, phd, astronomer? Can you tell me a little more about yourself?

I’m actively trying to locate the fragments, if you have any info / data on the trajectory that you could give me that would be much appreciated.


From: Mike Hankey
Date: Sun, Jul 12, 2009 at 12:31 AM
To: Richard Kowalski

here’s an article from a meteorite expert that describes a lot of things about the picture. i’m uploading the pic now to my site. i’ll send you the url once its up there.


From: Mike Hankey
Date: Sun, Jul 12, 2009 at 12:42 AM
To: Richard Kowalski

Here is the link to the raw image file:

[link removed / leave a comment if you would like to review the RAW file]

I’m very interested to know why you have some doubt about the current picture. I’m also interested to hear your analysis after you’ve looked at the picture.

The picture is 100% real. If its not the fireball what else could it be? Its certainly not a firefly, or a plane. And the timing is exact. I heard and felt the sonic boom and this happened at the same exact time the picture was taken.

Thanks looking forward to your reply.


From: Richard Kowalski
Date: Sun, Jul 12, 2009 at 12:48 AM
To: Mike Hankey

Hi Mike,

I am an astronomer with the Catalina Sky Survey. We search for Near Earth Asteroids and are the most productive survey in that field. I am also the discoverer of 2008 TC3, the first object to be discovered in space and then impacting on earth. That happened last October.

Here is our website:


I certainly do not think that the image is “fake” or hoaxed, but my original suspicion was that the object you imaged was an aircraft. We often see aircraft, satellites and meteors in our images. On an average night we examining literally a thousand images or more, so I am probably more experienced looking at these types of images than any other person who has contacted you about your image.

I have often seen images that have a combination of the effects that is visible in your image, and they usually turn out to be aircraft. However, on examining the versions of your image much more closely, I am starting to think I may be mistaken and you actually did catch this object soon after it broke up, but was rapidly fading.

I see you have sent me the url. I will download the image shortly and let you know what I think as soon as I have finished a closer examination.

I really do appreciate you providing this image file for me and am very glad to see you use RAW. I have a 20D and love it. I’m in the process of replacing the shutter, which gave out after 90,000 exposures.

Talk to you soon.

Thanks! Mike Hankey wrote:

From: Richard Kowalski
Date: Sun, Jul 12, 2009 at 1:00 AM
To: Mike Hankey

Hey Mike,

I’m convinced. You have an image of the fireball! Congrats. Great catch!

What I wanted to see was the variation in the brightness of the trails at full resolution, both in pixels and bit depth. I’m curious though if the camera is set to the correct time?

The file has the time 12:03:51am embedded in it and I’d just like to confirm if that is correct of if it is off by any amount and if so by how much.

Thanks again for allowing me to examine your original data. I very much appreciate that!

Cheers and keep up the good work! Mike Hankey wrote:

From: Mike Hankey
Date: Sun, Jul 12, 2009 at 1:12 AM
To: Richard Kowalski

Thanks Richard,

Congratulations on TC3 that sounds fascinating. I will read up about that and your work. Please work very hard at your job, I don’t want earth to get hit by a giant asteroid!

My first thought was it was a plane too, when I initially looked at the picture on the camera view finder. That screen is really small and hard to tell and I remember thinking, that’s way to big for a plane, but I chalked it up as some type of problem in the shot. I’ve shot lots of plane trails and they are usually about 1 pixel wide.

I just got your response! Thanks that is great.

I noticed the time thing too, but the file system is 12:06. So that means the elapsed time should have be 12:03:51-12:06:51 (+1 for DLS). I think the camera is not adjusted for daylight savings time. Its off by 1 hour. I’m not sure if the time stamp is at the beginning of the photo or the end. I’m also not sure how off the time is on the camera but I will check.

Would you mind if I posted our email thread on my site? This is a great thrill to hear from someone as important as you and I’d love to post your validation of the picture.




From: Richard Kowalski
Date: Sun, Jul 12, 2009 at 1:00 AM
To: Mike Hankey

Cheers and keep up the good work!

From: Richard Kowalski
Date: Sun, Jul 12, 2009 at 2:50 AM
To: Mike Hankey

Please feel free to post my comments on your blog.

I was very adamant that your image was an aircraft passing through the field on the Meteorite List. Meteorites are a hobby for me, so there are plenty of other more knowledgeable people there. However, I found that I had questions about my own ID and wanted to make sure I did not disseminate incorrect information there. There are a large number of meteorite hunters who are trying to determine where the strewn field for this fall should be and I did not want to provide incorrect information or assessment either way. The more high quality information available, the more likely fragments will be recovered.

Again, thank you for letting me examine your data and congrats.



3 Comments for this entry

  • Elizabeth

    Are you sure you want the rest of the world to have a copy of your original file??

  • Russell Thomas

    I live in the Hagerstown/Frederick area of Maryland. Although I missed seeing or hearing about this event earlier I would be very interested in forming a search party with any other “hunters” to recover pieces from the site. Let me know if anyone else is interested.

    P.S. has anybody recovered any confirmed specimens from this bolide? aka (mason dixon)if so what type and what location?

  • Mike Hankey


    I would def be interested in working with you / getting more search parties involved. Contact me at mike.hankey@gmail.com and we can talk specifics.



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