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Scientists hunt for WA meteor crash site after it lit up the sky in a fiery display

Emily Moulton, August 31, 2018 7:08AM Kids News

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The bright light seen shooting across the West Australian sky. media_cameraThe bright light seen shooting across the West Australian sky.

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Scientists are trying to pinpoint* the location where a meteor landed after lighting up the West Australian sky this week.

The bright flash of light was witnessed by dozens of people from Mindarie to Meckering with many believing it crashed somewhere between Northam and York, about 90 minutes’ drive east of Perth.

The light was first spotted over the Perth suburb of Ellenbrook with some reporting that it came through blue, went bright white before hitting the ground and exploding.

Social media went into meltdown* with theories over what and where it could be.

Professor of Planetary Science Phil Bland, leader of Curtin University’s Desert Fireball Network, said the exact location was not so easy to determine and could take weeks to find.

He explained that based on the size and speed of the meteor it could be up to 100km away from where people saw it.

“This was a very big chunk of rock,” he said. “It must have been about half a metre when it first entered Earth’s atmosphere*.

“These things travel between 15 to 20km per second. Something that big burns up very fast.

It’s quite hard to say where it is at the moment.”

Prof Bland said his team was very excited by the meteor.

He explained “fireballs” do enter the atmosphere but they have not had one this big land this close to Perth in a while.

“It’s pretty unusual,” he said. “It’s also exciting.”

The meteor as recorded on Twitter. media_cameraThe meteor as recorded on Twitter.

Prof Bland said he believed they would find something despite reports there was a bright big flash or explosion in the sky and also a loud boom.

“Often there is a big flare before it hits the ground,” he explained. “And because there were reports of a sonic boom that’s a good indication* that something hit the ground.”

And what exactly does he expect his team to find?

“Hopefully, a black rock, a bit bigger than a football,” he said. “It will also have crystals on it. This is quite unusual and rare and will have unique scientific importance.”

Matt Woods from the Perth Observatory, who was working at the time the meteor was seen, said he received dozens of calls from frightened people saying they had witnessed the phenomenon*. Some thought it was a plane crash or an earthquake.

He said based on its trajectory and speed, it was “most definitely” a meteor.”

Under WA law, if any part of the meteor is found, it will belong to the state and must be given to the WA Museum.

The WA Museum’s meteorite collection is one of the biggest in the southern hemisphere, with about 14,000 specimens* from 750 separate meteorites.

A meteor in the night sky. media_cameraA meteor in the night sky.

WHAT IS A METEOR

A small body of matter from outer space that enters the Earth’s atmosphere, becomes hot from friction and appears as a streak of light.

WHAT IS A METEORITE?

A piece of rock or metal that has fallen to the Earth’s surface from outer space as a meteor. More than 90 per cent of meteorites are of rock while the remainder consist wholly or partly of iron and nickel.

GLOSSARY

pinpoint: find something with great accuracy

social media meltdown: lots of people talking about an event

atmosphere: gases surrounding the earth or another planet.

indication: something that points to or explains something else

phenomenon: an event where the cause or explanation is unknown

specimens: animal, plant, piece of a mineral, etc. used as an example of its species

LISTEN TO TODAY’S STORY

QUICK QUIZ

1. What colours was the meteor reported to show?

2. How big do scientists think the meteor was when it entered Earth’s atmosphere?

3. How fast do meteor’s travel?

4. What happened that makes scientists think the meteor hit the ground?

5. If found, where will the meteorite be taken to?

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

1. Map it out

There were a number of sightings of this meteor as it flew over Western Australia. Map the places where sightings were made, on a map of WA.

The article tells you how far from the sightings that it may have landed. On your map draw an outline of the search area needed to be covered to find the meteorite pieces. Remember it could be this distance from each sighting so your search area needs to reflect this.

You may need to use an atlas or Google Maps to help you.

Time: Allow 30 minutes

Curriculum links: English, Science, The Humanities – Geography

2. Extension: In the article this meteor is described as a “bright flash” and “fireball”. Use details from the article and your imagination to draw a picture of what this meteor might have looked like as it travelled overhead. You can use whatever drawing materials you have available and permission to use. Draw your meteor picture on an A4 piece of paper. You might like these displayed around your classroom.

Time: Allow 20 minutes

Curriculum links: English, Science, The Arts – Visual Arts

Extra Resources: A map of Western Australia, Access to Google Maps or atlases

Please note; the sightings were made close to Perth so your map needs to cover this area specifically. Drawing materials – pencils, textas, pastels, crayons etc

VCOP ACTIVITY

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many connectives as you can find in pink. Discuss if these are being used as conjunctions, or to join ideas and create flow.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Would you like to join the hunt for the WA meteorite? Why or why not?

No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking.

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