Astronomers 'spot' meteorite on vast Nullabor Plain

Astronomers `spot` meteorite on vast Nullabor Plain London: Astronomers have discovered a specific piece of meteorite on Nullabor Plain, after tracking it from orbit, a rare finding which they claim is a major breakthrough for planetary science.

An international team, led by Phil Bland of Imperial College London, has spotted not only a tiny meteorite on the Nullarbor Plain, but also its orbit and the asteroid it came from, using cameras which capture fireballs streaking across the night sky and mathematics, the 'Science' journal reported.

The astronomers deployed three "all sky cameras" on the Nullarbor Plain to form a fireball camera network. The cameras take a single time lapse picture of the sky throughout the entire night to record any fireballs over the Plain.

Combined with some clever mathematics, they were then able to calculate the original orbit of the object and where to search for the meteorite on the ground.

And, the ability to track meteorites back to their asteroid home also means it is an incredibly cheap way of sampling that asteroid, rather than conducting an expensive space mission, the astronomers said.

Team member and CSIRO Exploration & Mining scientist Rob Hough said the search for the meteorite was helped by the fact the Nullarbor Plain is marked by white limestone rocks.

"So a dark meteorite on the white surface is easier to find, however it's very tiny, so the discovery is still really quite amazing. This particular meteorite is very interesting because of its rarity. It is an achondrite -- a basalt -- with a composition that suggest an asteroid from the inner asteroid belt," Hough said.

According to the astronomers, the all sky cam network had been an extremely successful project and had spotted many fireballs.

"The Plain is very difficult place to have technology like the cameras and the fieldwork to find the meteorite is not trivial. The logistics are a really important aspect of a project like this and it takes a lot of planning to make it work," he said.

Bureau Report