Friday, July 27, 2012

It Belongs in a Museum!

The above image is an example of a large fireball breaking up in Earth's atmosphere. This type of exploding meteor is called a bolide. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

"It belongs in a Museum!" That particular phrase was a favorite of a certain fictional, fedora-wearing, whip-wielding, pistol-packing archaeologist of which I'm rather fond.

But in this case, the phrase was uttered, until quite recently, by Knut Jørgen Røed Ødegaard, Norwegian astronomer, manager of the Harestua Solar Observatory and a popular interviewee for astronomical stories. The details are in an article published July 26th in The Foreigner, an Norwegian news service (theforeigner.no).CLICK HERE to read the July 26th article.

It all started back on the evening of Thursday, March 1st, when a large exploding fireball, also called a bolide, was seen and heard over southern Norway and parts of Sweden (CLICK HERE to read the March 2nd article in The Foreigner). The fall left chunks of meteorite scattered over the same region. About 800 had been reported as of this writing. One made a hole in the roof of a property in Oslo. And another fragmented in several pieces after hitting the frozen ground.

One individual discovered a large meteorite fragment, weighing 4.6 kilograms (just over 10 pounds), in the capital’s Grefsen district in the spring. The find is believed to be the largest in Norway in at least 100 years. But other than the general information, nothing more was heard about the large meteorite or the individual who reported it.

Always a champion for astronomy, Mr. Ødegaard appeared on the local NRK evening news, reminding the public of the fall, explaining the scientific importance of the rock, and asking for any information as to its whereabouts. Even representatives of the Oslo Natural History Museum got into the spirit of things, promising a finder's fee to anyone who could help locate the large meteorite. But nothing more was learned...until this week.

On Thursday, July 26th, museum personnel admitted they received an email from Mr. Ødegaard, dated July 4th, informing them the meteorite was in his possession after he bought it from the discoverer in Grefsen. The museum representatives were relieved of the news, but also puzzled and disappointed that Mr. Ødegaard had not, as of yet, followed his own advice and offered to present the big rock over to the museum himself.

Perhaps Mr. Ødegaard has plans that involve the Harestua Solar Observatory where he works, or perhaps he is quietly assembling a scientific team to study the meteorite, or perhaps he just plans to put up a sign and sell ticks. Nothing more is known at this item.

Of course, if I was to reflect on the adventures of the aforementioned fictional archaeologist, this would not be the first time that a prize of great importance was found and then quietly hidden away. It seems we will just have to wait and see what happens next...

If you wish to learn more about meteorites, meteors and Near-Earth Objects in general, I can think of no better way to start than by visiting the online home of NASA's Near-Earth Object (NEO) Observation Program. Back in 1998, NASA established the program to coordinate the agency's efforts to detect, track and characterize Earth-approaching NEOs and comets larger than 1 kilometer in size. The program now also searches for NEOs as small as object 2011 AG5. NASA supports NEO observation, tracking and analysis activities worldwide. Activities are coordinated through the NEO Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Office (JPL) in Pasadena, California. To learn more, visit: neo.jpl.nasa.gov .

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