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Austin Ashlock and Tu-Uyen Tran, Forum News Service, Published June 30 2013

Canadian collector urges ND farmers to seek meteorites on land

GRAND FORKS – They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and, in Calvin Duszynski’s case, a farmer’s nuisance could be his treasure.

The Calgary, Alberta, meteorite collector is asking North Dakota farmers to check out the rocks in their fields for tell-tales signs that some of those rocks might be meteorites. Rocks that fall from space, he said, often look a lot like regular old rocks. He figures that many might have been tossed aside in rock piles as farmers clear their fields.

Why North Dakota?

Since the state’s first meteorite report from Niagara in 1879, only 10 meteorites have been recovered in North Dakota, according to the international Meteoritical Society. The last report was from Drayton in 1972.

“Because of the amount of wide country and farmland in the state, these fallen objects could have gone unnoticed and unseen for over 100 years,” Duszynski said. “The fact that there have only been 10 discovered makes me sure there are plenty more to find.”

Minnesota, too, has a dearth of meteorites with just eight recovered, two of them in the northwest in Fisher in 1894 and Euclid in 1970.

For comparison, Kansas, which is about the same size as North Dakota, has recovered 145 meteorites. Nebraska has recovered 49.

By placing ads in local newspapers and spreading the word, Duszynski said he hopes more people in North Dakota and South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota will contact him about suspected meteorites in their possession.

Mike Gaffey, a professor in UND’s space studies department, said meteorites that have fallen in the past century do, in fact, often show similarities to rocks.

“They often show a black fusion crest about a millimeter thick, melting as it came into atmosphere,” he said. “They really can look like regular rocks. However, they are very dense.”

They also tend to contain metal, and even stony meteorites have flecks of metal in them, according to a report by Mark Gonzalez with the North Dakota Geological Survey.

Meteorites vary in size, but small ones are more common, with the majority of their mass burned away upon entering earth’s atmosphere.

The discovery and reporting of meteorites is essential in gaining information on the solar system and the threat of incoming asteroids, Gaffey said.

“(Meteorites) give us our only direct clues about our solar system,” he said. “Meteorites are the smallest parts of an object that is threatening, so we need to pay attention to what is falling out of the sky. I tell my students that an asteroid impact is the only natural disaster that can be prevented.”

There have been reports of meteorites crashing into homes, he said, but no one has been killed by them.

Duszynski said he hopes that, through his campaign, he can help scientists gain more information on meteorites.

“If someone gets a hold of me, what I will typically do is ask them to describe the object to me, and if it matches the description of a meteorite, I will have them send me a picture,” he said. “And if it checks out from there, I will ask them to do some tests, and if it proves to be a meteorite to that point, I will purchase it from them and send it in to get it verified.”

If the meteorite is verified, a classification will be written up and be put in journals. The meteorite will then be named after the town it was discovered in.

Meteorite hunter Geoffrey Notkin writes in Geology.com that meteorites are typically sold by weight. Common types of meteorites can sell for 50 cents a gram (about 0.035 ounce) and very rare ones can sell for $40 a gram.

While the number of meteorites found in North Dakota is small, according to Duszynski, the American Meteor Society reports about one meteor sighting per month in North Dakota (A meteor is a meteorite before it hits the ground.)

Sightings don’t necessarily translate to an actual impact in North Dakota, though, because the falling object could have burned up during its descent or its direction and speed may cause it to land in an adjacent state.

The state geological survey office actually gets lots of requests from residents to help identify suspected meteorites, but few have been verified as such, according to Gonzalez.

Still, Duszynski’s campaign has yielded a pair of meteorites this year, one from South Dakota and one from Minnesota. He said he expects more will be discovered, even in North Dakota.


Red River Valley meteorites

There have been 10 meteorites found in North Dakota and eight in Minnesota, according to the Meteoritical Society. Of these, six have been found in the Red River Valley:

• Niagara, N.D., in 1879.

• Fisher, Minn., in 1894.

• Bowesmont, N.D., in 1962 and 1972.

• Glasston, N.D., in 1969.

• Euclid, Minn., in 1970.

• Drayton, N.D., in 1982.