Fireballs Aotearoa members on the search for freshly fallen meteorite

Fireballs Aotearoa members on the search for freshly fallen meteorite

Story by RNZ

Keen searchers are setting off on Thursday in the hope of finding a freshly fallen meteorite in the Mackenzie country.

It has been 20 years since one was last found in New Zealand.

Three or four meteorites hit New Zealand every year but most are not seen or found and it was sheer luck the most recent one was spotted.

A member of Fireballs Aotearoa captured footage of it last week.

Group publicist Steve Wyn-Harris told Morning Report Steve Behan was sitting in his spa pool in Queenstown when he saw the fireball come in.

"He glanced over at his fireball camera ...and it was aiming right at that area of the sky. He got very excited, rushed in and realised he had captured these images of the fireball.

"He's the lead search coordinator today so he's in charge and he's hoping to be part of the team that does find this. We'll need to be lucky but we've got our fingers crossed."

They have triangulated its resting place to an area of about 300 hectares near Tekapo.

Wyn-Harris said the meteorite would have hit the ground at 200km a second.

"So it would have made a bit of an impact, possibly broken on impact so that we'll find bits and pieces of it."

However, the meteorite had slowed dramatically because when it first entered the atmosphere it was travelling at 18km a second and its speed dropped to 5km a second as "the atmosphere thickened".

No fancy equipment or technology is involved, instead the searchers would be using their eyes.

"This will have black fusion crust on it as it burnt up as it entered the atmosphere and will look pretty similar to a lump of coal ... greywacke in nature."

The scientific community was intrigued by the meteorite because it was freshly fallen.

Older meteorites can provide information about the solar system.

"But freshly fallen meteorites - they've been sitting out there in the deep freeze and vacuum of space for four and a half billion years and when they come in they still retain all the information of the formation of the solar system all that long time ago and they can tell science a lot."

Researchers might even be able to provide some answers on the big questions, such as the meaning and origin of life, Wyn-Harris said.

If their mission was successful any parts of the meteorite would be given to Otago University for research and one of their experts was joining the searchers today.

As for any monetary value, under New Zealand law the meteorite belonged to the landowner. It could be worth tens of thousands of dollars but could not be exported.

If it landed on DOC land it was finders keepers, however, the searchers would be signing a waiver so that anything found would be handed over to the university and then potentially a museum.