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Ask Slashdot: What Gadgets Would You Use For Hunting Meteorites? 130

DrPeper writes "I may have an opportunity to assist a pair of renowned meteorite hunters (yes, the ones on the Science Channel). Being the MacGyver-type everywhere I've worked and a consummate geek, I thought I would pose a question to the Slashdot community. If you were to go meteorite hunting, what gadgets would you use? I've already thought of using a UAV with a radio gradiometer, or attaching a coil to a quadrocopter, blimp, or terrestrial robot. (The point of which would be to have it automatically produce a gradient map of the density of ferrous metals in a given area.) Any other crazy ideas out there?"
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Ask Slashdot: What Gadgets Would You Use For Hunting Meteorites?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 25, 2011 @06:15PM (#35617400)

    A gun.

    • by toastar ( 573882 )
      You thought sniping someone in car going 60 is hard, just try hitting a small flaming piece of rock going about 100,000 MPH.
      • Yes, you really need at least a cruise missile to even have a chance.

        But really, THE vehicle to use was the space shuttle. You could store a number of missiles in the cargo bay, it was fairly roomy inside for the tailgating party, and it was reasonably maneuverable. It's the 4x4 of space travel.

    • A shovel. And a helmet.

      • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

        And what do you need a helmet for?

        OK, a helmet may be a good sun shade, better ventilation than a regular hat.

        But that aside - hunting meteorites isn't that easy. The easiest way to find them is in terrain where they stand out - like in a desert or in arctic regions. Magnetic detection only works for some meteorites and only in terrain where the ground itself isn't causing problems. In addition to that - most meteorites are small - like the size of a fist.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Enough said

  • Access [] through my phone.
  • You know the one that was on /. the other day that NASA has setup cameras around the country that capture pictures of metorites and which calculates trajectory, distance, and potential landing sites....
    • by DrPeper ( 249585 )

      Yes I thought of that as soon as the article hit. However there are less than 10 camera sites at this time, and all of them are on the east coast. None in the midwest or west. I've seen mention of a different (but similar) system in the southwest, but I've been unable to hunt down what it's called and who runs it.

      • Fewer than ten, not less than ten. A grammar cop's job is never done.
        • ok. but why?
          • by dtmos ( 447842 ) *

            ok. but why?

            As second assistant to an associate grammar cop, let me attempt a reply.

            One uses "fewer" when there is an integer (i.e., a countable) number of items, like babies born or the number of camera sites. One uses "less" when there is a quantity that ordinarily cannot be individually counted, like light on a retina or the amount of gas in a tank.

            Note that (for example) if you're a physicist counting photons of light on a retina or gas molecules in a tank, "less" turns back into "fewer", because now you're talkin

    • Said cameras would be capturing pictures of meteors, not meteorites. I can't believe that some non-digest-reading pedant hasn't beat me to this.
    • Landsat (, I think is maintained by EROS ( in South Dakota, is used for mapping minerals deposits. Meteorites may be too diluted to show much of a signature.
  • Barret 50 (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Meteorites tend to be made of metal and thick enough to shrug off most hunting rounds with ease.
    Barret 50 is the hunting weapon you need. Now who said it didn't have a sporting purpose?!

  • Let's see... Falcon 9, Bigelow Spacehab, Dragon Capsule, Canadarm/Dextre, Spacesuit...

    Oh! Meteor-ITE. Right. Nevermind then.
  • Head over to Tower Hobbies and find yourself a cheap, decently built RTF trainer. Add a boostercam ( and with some minor modifications you should be good to go. Plus, RC is a great hobby to get into if you aren't already.
    • I think he'd have lots of fun, but he'd probably find more meteorites with a pair of sunglasses and hiking boots.

      • Yeah, I realized my error after posting, but was hoping it'd fall into /. obscurity. The camera just wouldn't work for him. Still, a basic RTF trainer would be a cheap way to build a map area, and possibly serve as a platform for a more advanced camera.
  • Slap a Kinect on it, and you can get 3D terrain maps from above to look for smaller impact craters. See: [] Also, recommend a few Hellfire missiles. Just in case.
  • by Cheerio Boy ( 82178 ) on Friday March 25, 2011 @06:22PM (#35617464) Homepage Journal
    A Roomba installed into an oversize frame with extra batteries, and these magnets on the bottom:

    United Nuclear []

    For extra points install a solar charging system. ;-)
    • by DrPeper ( 249585 )

      Actually this is one of the ideas we are throwing around. iRobot actually makes a military robot that can handle any terrain. I'm thinking of attaching the coil from a metal detector to it, then programming it to automatically drive a grid pattern on its own. Then coordinating the data onto a map so that you get a color gradient map of the ferrous metal densities on that map. Then you'd know where the higher concentration of ferrous metals are and probably a better chance at finding a meteorite.

      • by DrPeper ( 249585 )

        And if that magnet is a neodymium iron boron kind, that would scare the heck out of me.

      • by Grog6 ( 85859 )

        That's probably the best option.

        You need good metal detectors that can handle the vertical component of the motion, otherwise you will get a lot of 'noise hits' due to mineral content in the ground.

        Also, the discriminator needs to be variable, to be able to be set to pick up iron, not gold or silver, as some cheaper machines have fixed settings.

        The large neo-magnet is also a good idea; but a big find will rip it from the frame of the robot, most likely. (Like you'd care...)

        Good hunting!

        • by BillX ( 307153 )

          Also, the OP didn't say what size of meteorites (s)he is looking for. For ~99.9x% of the meteorite particles that reach Earth intact, they will be not only mapped by a magnet-bearing sensor, but automatically collected :-)

  • Simple (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Goody ( 23843 ) on Friday March 25, 2011 @06:22PM (#35617470) Journal
    I would use whatever the renowned meteorite hunters are using. They must be renowned meteorite hunters for a reason, and probably know what gear to use.
    • by mim ( 535591 )
      Insightful? Wait, what? Who's modding this? This is funny!
    • Probably the only area /. might be able to help them would be in something to do with data mining or computer visualization... the meatspace gadgets used for finding meteorites run pretty deep.

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *

      They basically use magnets on sticks. Not very technically impressive, but seems to work pretty well for them.

  • by nebaz ( 453974 ) on Friday March 25, 2011 @06:23PM (#35617472)

    Two pounds of semtex, an egg timer, radiation suit, 3 rolls of duct tape, and NO QUESTIONS ASKED. I'm sorry, what were we looking for again?

  • If you're on a budget then the only really viable option is a tractor beam, bring them down to the ground. Entering the atmosphere and a hard landing means that you get ready killed part cooked meteorite to take home.
  • by Jeek Elemental ( 976426 ) on Friday March 25, 2011 @06:24PM (#35617490)

    dressing up as a dinosaur should do the trick

    • > dressing up as a dinosaur should do the trick
      Dorothy []'s been doing that for years and all she ever found was roses and men in skivvies.
  • What? You want an explanation?

  • The primary concern should be to make the search better or faster than what can be done by humans without the gadgets.

    What can machines do better than humans? Sense magnetic fields. Process signals faster. Move faster. Perform repetitive tasks in an automated fashion.

    Whatever you do, be sure to test before you do any serious field work and take plenty of spare parts.

  • I'm not exactly familiar with the sensitivity of a typical magnetometer in an Android phone, but you could theoretically use them to find magnetic anomalies caused by the metal. Download one of the free metal detector apps, or just the one called Tricorder, which is also free, and lets you access many of the sensors, after which you can use the magnetometer to pick up anomalous flux densities indicative of a piece of metal underground.

    Good luck, and good hunting!

  • If those meteorites were trying to hide she'd find them in less than a heartbeat.
  • Or if you're talking about boring terrestrial meteor hunting, you just need a good magnet, gps and metal detector.
  • I watched one episode where the meteorite hunter guys were using a home-made metal-detector that was made from PVC pipe and hitched onto a vehicle. They were having problems because the thing kept breaking. Using PVC pipe is a fine way to fabricate stuff quick and dirty, but there was just so much room for improvement in their design. Even just wrapping a couple of the heavier load bearing pipes with a bit of fiberglass+resin would've gone a long way to save them headaches in the field. I don't know if
    • by DrPeper ( 249585 )

      Actually we've already discussed fabricating a fiberglass/resin boom arm for the truck. I'm just in concept design at the moment.

  • Cheap, effective for finding ferrous meteorites. We use magnets from old hard drives. Good place to look is the average winter windward shore of a large dry lake bed, where small meteorites tend to get concentrated. Look for signs of eolian erosion. Poke around until something sticks. Kinda time-consuming, but we've found a couple chondrites that way. Probably doesn't make good TV, though.
  • Having followed closely academically organized meteorite finds, it turns out that what you need most of all is human eyes and lots of them. Assuming you have figured out where to look already, walking a grid pattern is one of the most effective ways. I suppose a metal detector will help with some kinds of meteorites, but really, the human eye is one of the best tools for the job.

    • I've also read that a high vantage point over a search area can help, assuming the area is uniform (dry lake bed), because it is possible to see very small ejection blankets, craters, and skids that you would not see from ground level. I'm thinking weather balloon and a camera with some sort of steadycam rig.
  • or a European Swallow, I forget which.
  • to pore over high res photographs of the desert.

    anyone who finds a meterotie gets a $500 bonus.

  • what else?
  • Hit 'em hard, hit 'em fast.

    Damn meteorites. Oh, and it helps to go out in your backyard and scream, "You think, you bad mutha fucka! You think you bad?"

    It will definitely impress the neighbors.

  • All the meteor hunters I've seen used an off-the-shelf metal detector. Of course, that only works for the vast majority of meteorites which are iron/nickel.
  • -cheap metal detector
    -long stick with rare earth magnets taped to the end
    -enough water for the day

    revolver with snakeshot

  • An image processing computer farm and Google Earth.

    Several large impact craters have been identified nearly by accident just by people looking at satellite data. With some work on image processing algorithms, there are likely oodles of ~10 meter sized crater remnants to be found scattered around the middles of nowhere, which nobody has noticed over the past few centuries since formation.

  • by RonR ( 923061 )
    I stubbed my toe on a pretty good sized (± 10 lb) meteorite hiking around in the desert in the early '60's. It ended up in the University of Arizona collections.
  • What Gadgets Would You Use For Hunting Meteorites?

    A shotgun.

    Be vewy vewy quiet, I'm hunting meteowites.

  • If it just fell from the sky, get some kind of infrared detector. It'll be hotter than ambient for a while.

  • by rgbatduke ( 1231380 ) <rgb@ph y . d u k> on Friday March 25, 2011 @07:58PM (#35618282) Homepage
    The easiest possible way to collect meteorites is to place a large, flat pan out on your back deck (or a large funnel with a fine screen like those they sell at breweries). Leave it out to collect rainwater. After a few heavy rains, you will notice that there is a small amount of fine grit in the filter or in the bottom of the pan. Carefully drain the water out of it and let it dry the rest of the way. Dump it out on a sheet of white paper, and go over the grit with a powerful magnet (like the ones that come inside old hard disk drives) wrapped in a plastic bag.

    Usually about 1/3 to 1/2 of the grit will be attracted to the magnet. It is made up of fragments of small nickel-iron meteorites of the sort that constantly rain in upon the Earth every day and that are one of many things that nucleate rainwater drops. A lot of the remaining grit is probably meteor dust as well, but stony meteor dust, and since some fraction of it is just plain old dust blown up from the ground, it is difficult to differentiate. But chunks of iron falling from the sky are probably meteor material.

    This is actually a fairly entertaining thing to do. You can look at the chunks you collect at maybe 10-30 power under a microscope, and see that they often do look melted and fused like their larger cousins. If you run a trap for a while and pull out the ferrous micrometeorites regularly, you can actually build up a small vial full of the stuff. My kids each did this as elementary science fair projects when they reached the right age, and it was always one of the most popular of displays.

    Finding larger meteorites isn't terribly difficult either as they constantly fall as well, but identifying them is more difficult. A rock, after all, looks a lot like a rock. Stony meteorites may not look like the right kind of rock for some location, but a non-expert isn't going to see the difference easily. Iron meteorites again are the easiest ones to identify if not find -- unless you live near an iron mine, an isolated chunk of iron-rich rock has a decent chance of being a meteorite. For these, good metal detectors can help.

    Some places make it easier to find meteorites than others. If you wander around in the middle of a big, arid, flat, desert, meteor craters sometimes stand out, unweathered, or stray rocks out on the surface turn out to be meteorites. Plowed fields and so on again let you look over a large surface area in a relatively short time, but even so it is a crap shoot. The only decent sized meteorite I've found I found without a metal detector -- it was a heavy, iron-rich rock out of place in the middle of a field. But anybody can find the micro-kind, right in their own back yard!

    As for equipment -- the same hard-disk drive magnet that you use to pull out the micrometeorites, securely attached to the end of your walking stick, is a great way to find them. If you're walking through a field (again in some part of the country not known for having native iron deposits) and your walking stick happens to pick up a chunk of possibly fused-looking rock, well, there you are!

    • by pruss ( 246395 )
      I wrapped a fridge magnet earlier today in plastic wrap and ran it through the dirt near a downspout. Got one promising piece: shiny with rounded edges and the sort of texture one associates with a micrometeorite. Size: a little thicker than a hair, and about four times as long as wide.
      • Yeah, I was surprised at how many tiny fragments fall. It's enough that one imagines the radius of the earth goes up by maybe some tens of microns per year. That doesn't sound like much, but over a million years, that is tens of meters, and over billions of years that's tens of kilometers. It's interesting to think that a significant fraction of the surface of the Earth is made up of meteorite dust that has been sifting down basically forever.

        This is just a Fermi estimate of the effect, and might be o
    • VERY cool, RG! I'll try this in my pool as the ice melts!

      • Oh, I forgot! For people who live in the really cold and icy world where lakes really, truly freeze solid, if you walk out onto the ice -- if it's a rock on the ice, it's probably a meteorite. Unless you are close to a shore where kids live and throw rocks, but you get the idea. Since rocks generally don't float and aren't horribly mobile on their own, a rock on the ice probably fell from the sky...

  • Ok, a serious answer (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Friday March 25, 2011 @08:15PM (#35618390) Homepage Journal

    First off, you want access to Google Earth and survey the terrain for any vegetation bands that indicate a subsurface anomaly. If the crater is too small for Google Earth's resolution, then use a weather balloon and a camera. If there's no vegetation, or it's too thin to show anomalies up, try a camera that can see into the infrared and take the picture at dusk. The difference in subsurface features will produce a difference in heat output.

    That tells you where a crater is and which direction it is facing, therefore it will tell you which direction the ellipse for the strewn field will need to point.

    A magnetometer is probably a better bet than GPR (which they've tried in the past without much luck). Combine it with a resistivity meter []. Meteorites all contain iron AND nickel (and other trace elements). By knowing the resistivity, you can distinguish a meteorite from any other type of iron. Depending on the age of the impact and climate, you may also be able to detect debris from how it has altered soil chemistry via this method.

    For the magnetometer, you want a proton magnetometer []/gradiometer, as that's the most sensitive. The link is to a site on how to build one.

    They have the world's largest metal detector, but you should be able to make one larger. Furthermore, it's a loop so it is detecting metal above the detector as well as in the ground. What you ACTUALLY want is for the detector to only look at the ground. A suitable reflector should not only achieve this but double the sensitivity at the same time.

  • Without an accurate method of determining the position of your UAV/blimp/whatever you're not going to be producing maps of any accuracy. (And consumer grade GPS isn't going to cut it.) Not to mention, you don't mention the sensitivity of your mapping instrument, etc... etc...

  • by Quiet_Desperation ( 858215 ) on Friday March 25, 2011 @08:27PM (#35618492)

    Get a truffle hunting pig and beam it with vast amounts of gamma radiation.

    That should transform it into a meteorite hunting pig.

    Um, or Hulk Pig.

    Wait. I better go check my notes.


  • Hooking Clark Kent up to an EKG would be effective for *some* meteorites.
  • Among those of us who have seriously used metal detectors to make money it is known that there is no one best detector for every environment. Simply having several different high end detectors at hand from various builders can enable much more successful searches. It is shocking how much that can be found by an experienced metal detector user. By experienced I mean experienced in a specific terrain as a full time hunter for at least five years and in snow states even five years is not sufficient to

  • by PPH ( 736903 )
    Train one to sniff out meteorites. Don't forget the bag of doggie treats for rewards.
  • If you attempt to do meaningful surveys with electronic instruments from the air, you need to keep your altitude very steady, or your results will be meaningless.

    An absolute minimum alternative would be real-time altitude data alongside any other data you gather, so you can compute altitude corrections to your data afterward.

    Either approach comes with some difficulty.
  • Tell those guys they should try a hound. Seriously. Just train it using known recent fallen rocks. It will figure out a common smell and learn from that. Make sure you honor private property signs in Texas. That's my only other tip.
  • You set up one of the pickup trucks and wait for a sufficient amount of time t for a meteorite to hit the back of the truck. If no meteorite hits the pickup truck in the alloted time frame, increase either t or the size of the pickup truck.

    The second truck is to replace your other pickup that got hit by a meteorite.

  • In Antarctica. The distribution of asteroids there must be the same as the distribution anywhere else. It's just that they're easier to find.
  • Just tell them that they're truffles.

  • and go to Greenland or Antarctica where the rapid melting exposes them.

    Global Climate Change has many benefits, more noticeable storms and meteorites.

Statistics are no substitute for judgement. -- Henry Clay