Mike's Astro Photos
Jul.09 2009

Update on Baltimore / PA Meteor

by , under Mason Dixon Meteor

Enhanced version of baltimore fireball picture

Enhanced version of baltimore fireball picture

Today has been crazy. I’ve got over 2 dozen emails from scientists, meteorite hunters and astronomers.

The feedback I have gotten on my picture has been amazing and everyone really seems to love it. I think I may be the first person in the world to photograph a meteor thru a telescope — its basically almost impossible to do. especially a meteor like this.If anyone knows if this has ever been done before please let me know.

I have had several meteorite hunters contact me and I have learned that they are actively looking for a crash site and have people on the ground now in PA.

The #1 most world famous meteorite hunter Steve Arnold contacted me today and said he was on a plane to Baltimore. The guy has a show called meteorite men on the science channel and said he might want to come out and check out the site where I took the picture.

Baltimore PA Meteor Picture
Baltimore PA Meteor Picture

Another group of meteorite hunters told me I could go out to the field with them if I wanted, they would share all their data with me and they said they would give me some meteorites if they find any and there is enough to go around. How cool is that!? These meteorite hunters remind me of Indiana Jones.

I’ve asked some of the meteorite experts if they can guess the size and they speculate the meteor was 1-2 meters big which is huge in meteor terms considering most shooting stars are about the size of a grain of rice. Other experts have scoffed at estimating it saying its simply impossible to know. I personally think it is very possible to calculate the size from my picture, but I don’t know how.

There is a lot of confusion about how much meteorites cost or are worth. This article from astronomy.com gives a pretty good explaination of the costs. Like most things the cost is based on supply and demand.

The most common meteorites generally cost between $3-$6 per gram while exotic meteorites  filled filled with space gems or carbon based diamonds that contain life’s building blocks may cost $30,000 per gram (these are super rare.) Meteorites that originated from Mars or the Moon are also very expensive. The most expensive meteor on ebay.com has a buy it now price of $3,500,000. Its over 2000 grams and comes in at $1500 per gram. It is billed as the ‘rarest’ meteor in the world. More than half of the 1900 metorites for sale on ebay right now are selling for less than $20. Most of them are under $5 and the more expensive ones are ones that have been made into jewlrey already. I found this pretty comprehensive chart of prices for meteorites that details prices for the different types of metiors.

If you are a landowner near a meteor crash site don’t think you’ve hit the jackpot. Most of the meteor hunters that will come knocking at your door are scientists doing research for colleges and museums. Chances are your meteorites will catch a few cents a gram at best. The meteorite hunters that I have met and talked to so far seem like fair people and are in it for the thrill more than the money.  Most of them will want to make a deal with you to pay you for your meteors but you shouldn’t expect a lot of money per gram.

People have told me that from my picture this meteor they think is mostly made out of stone. So its meteorites would fall into the ‘common’ category.  Some people did say there is still a 10% chance this could be space junk. An astro buddy of mine told me that it reminded him of what the space shuttles looked like when they crashed. He also mentioned that spy satelites travel on a south to north orbit so they can easily take pictures of the whole world once per day. The evidence currently supports that the meteor was traveling south to north. So if you are looking for this thing watch out for plutonium batteries!

Baltimore Meteor picture overlayed on star chart.
Baltimore Meteor picture overlayed on star chart.

Skyandtelescope magazine also contacted me and they want to do a story and publish my picture on their website. Kelly sent over this great image of my picture plotted correctly on a star chart. Thanks Kelly! I spent about 2 hours last night unsuccessfully trying to do this exact same thing.

Tonight I recreated the scene of the crime, by telling my scope to go back to the exact date of the picture and then having the goto computer target Andromeda. I was able to determine the RA/DEC numbers. I also took pictures of the sky with a laser to pin point where the meteor would have been. I will post these pictures tomorrow. I want to also make a simulated picture/video of how the sky would have looked in a wider field of view.

I’ve been uploading the WJZ interview to you tube for the last 2 hours. The video file was pretty big. I will post this on the blog once it uploads. A friend of mine re-edited it a bit, it should be pretty good.

Baltimore PA Meteor / Fireball Annontated
Baltimore PA Meteor / Fireball Annontated

I’ve also been plotting all of the sitings reported by different people in different areas, to help determine the trajectory. Alot of really smart people are working on determining the trajectory and I’m confident it will be precisely determined. The American Meteor Society has a meteor log book on line that has detailed reports from over 15 reliable meteor watchers. I’m plugging all of these into google earth to try to map out the path this thing took.

Special thanks to Eric from http://meteoriteblog.com/ who sent me these enhanced versions of the meteor pic. The image enhancements bring out detail in the photo. The little blue arrows indicate the streaking paths of smaller pieces of meteoroid debris.

Here is a video simulation / best guess of how things would have looked with the naked eye that night. Please if you are a meteor expert and have criticism of this simulation please send it to me so we can make improvements to the video.

Special thanks to Doctor Vincent Perlerin and his associates from Paris for analyzing the pictures and working on this video. Vincent you are the man!

I’ll keep you posted, this is really really amazing….


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19 Comments for this entry

  • Frank Roylance

    I am a science writer at The Sun, working on an article for Friday about the meteorite hunt. I’d like to chat with you by phone. Please call me at XXX XXX-XXXX. If no answer try my cell XXX XXX-XXXX. Many thanks.

  • Fennec

    I’m pretty sure sites like Wikipedia would love a copy of the picture: have you considered releasing it under a Creative Commons license (or similar), for the betterment of mankind and all that good stuff? :)

  • BetterMemory

    The math would be a stretch for me, but there is more information available from your picture. You know the part of the sky you were shooting. By identifying the stars which the meteor passes you can get the exact astronomical coordinates of the stars. Calculating the direction from your telescope to those stars lets you then estimate the direction from your telescope to the meteor’s path rather closely; the precision depends upon how well the location of your telescope can be determined. You have stars on both sides, so your telescope’s distortion effects should be minimal. As you then have the meteor’s path as a line projected from the location of your telescope, you can use that line to project a plane which intersects the upper atmosphere. The portion of that plane which goes through the altitudes where such a meteor would burn will in turn define an area which the meteor passed through and pointing toward its impact. Technically, the plane from your telescope through the meteor’s path also intersects the impact point, but the upper atmosphere boundary helps define the most likely line of intersection with the Earth’s surface. The nearest point is probably the line from the highest “burn” altitude above the “from” direction down to the lowest “burn” altitude at the “to” direction, as that’s the steepest descent and closest to you. It could have been traveling at any angle, so the hunt would be from around the nearest point and away from your location. The mathematical projection can be improved by adding air resistance.

    Good hunting.

  • Polyhead

    Prepare for slash dot effect. If you don’t know what that is, you soon will!

  • Harald Kolme

    How is that possible, wouldn’t any paper published on the sun combust instantaneously?

  • Fred

    Nice job, Mike.

  • Leo

    So the Sun wants to communicate about a Meteorite? Must’ve been a hit-and-run incident! ;D

    Thanks for all your work!

  • Lee

    Mike, that’s truly amazing…awesome pictures

  • iPhone Games

    Amazing photo. Let us know when that video gets up.

  • Carl Maniscalco

    Mike–have you thought about buying a couple of lottery tickets while your luck is hot?

  • John

    Great job!

    For a price guide for meteorites recently witnessed and landing in the US:

    1. go to ebay.

    2. Search on “West meteorite” for current bids or prices asked. Currently over 40 items.

    3. For actual prices paid, do a search on “completed” listings for “West meteorite”.

    If found. they will be very valuable. Prices should be comparable.

    Landowners should not “give” them away except to valid educational institutions for study. Verify credentials of educational representatives. (A donation may qualify for a substantial charitable tax deduction. Get a letter from the institution.)

    Meteorite hunters will make a bundle on them.

    P.S. 454 grams in a pound!

  • Mike Hankey


    Yes I have thought about that. I played wheel of fortune and craps at the casino. I did ok, but nothing to brag about. I was hoping to get that triple wheel and take home $20k. lol.

    Really I’m hoping to parlay my lucky streak into finding this thing.



  • Bill

    Incredible picture. Keep up the good work Mr. Hankey.

  • gary

    Lucky Dude….right thru Andromeda galaxy.
    Never seen such a linear pattern for a meteor.
    Usually the brightness (and track) variation is extreme.
    Think you’d better bring a geiger counter with you on your search…. the Cosmos sats had nuclear reactors.
    Nice job.

  • Plenum

    Could the slash-dot effect be the spin/rotation of the meteorite?

    And – Congrats on the image!

  • candace day

    I live in Central Oregon ,and my husband was bow hunting in August and stumbled upon what we think is a meteorite.My father did some research on it(he is a rockhound)and he believes it to be a pallasite meteorite(weighs 8 lbs)Do you know what we should do from here?Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

  • anthony hershman

    i think i found a meteorite, i had this object for three years and been watching the sci chanel, when i seen a meteorite on display from show that looked just like the one i have, this piece is about 10lbs i need a pro to see if real i live in philadelphia and i am not into pranks, ill give u my home number to let you know i am serious,i found this at low tide in a body of water in a remote area, the specimen has unique features that i feel need to be checked out my name is anthony home#XXX-XXX-XXXX i really dont know who is close to me to see this as i got lucky in finding youre website while surfing ,,,,please call so atleast i can be assured that this possibly can be a meteorite……thank you anthony..

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