sábado, 29 de junho de 2013

Out and About: Meteorites find way to the prairie

Until Virgin Galactic makes good on its promise of commercial space travel, the night sky is the main conduit to the cosmos for anybody not part of an astronaut program.

For amateur astronomers such as University of Sioux Falls emeritus physics professor Wally Klawiter, “after a while, you get to understand how the planets follow the same path the sun follows.

“It’s just nice to be able to look up in the sky and know what you’re seeing. It makes you feel like you know something, and it doesn’t take long to start learning those things.”

Every now and again, though, the heavens make a more intimate connection with folks on earth. It has long been known shooting stars slashing across the darkness are meteors burning themselves up in the planet’s atmosphere. Sometimes they survive the trip, and in the early to mid-20th century, self-taught scientist and meteorite collector Harvey Nininger discovered the Great Plains was a tremendous place to find them. He recovered several hundred meteorites during his life and published more than 160 scientific papers on his collection.

Nininger died in 1986 at age 99. Now Calvin Duszynski, a fossil and crystal dealer from Calgary, Alberta, is picking up his banner. Duszynski began collecting meteorites about a dozen years ago.

“I’ve got a pretty neat collection from different parts of the world,” he says.

Like Nininger, “my goal is to contact as many farmers and ranchers as possible and educate them,” Duszynski says. “They know their properties inside and out. They know these odd-looking rocks show up from time to time, but that’s as far as they know. So they huck them into a rock pile.

“Sometimes they’re used as door stops or they’re in barns or in rock gardens.”

Duszynski has placed an advertisement in several farm and ranch magazines. “I hope somebody reads it who is sitting in his rocking chair in the middle of Montana and realizes ‘Hey, I just hucked one of those rocks this spring.’ ”

So far, Duszynski has been contacted by a farmer in Hanson County, who wishes to remain anonymous, and one in Minnesota who are willing to sell him meteorites they found. The going rate is “a couple hundred to several thousand dollars. It all depends what it is.”

Meteorites are typically dimpled like a golf ball and have either a weak or strong magnetic attraction, depending on how much iron ore they contain. The ones with the most iron “will be much heavier than any ordinary rock,” Duszynski writes in his ad.

No kidding. There have been about a dozen known meteorite finds in South Dakota from 1892 to 1990. Bruce Eichstadt found the most recent one while disking a field on his father’s farm near Wolsey.

“I don’t know how many times I disked that field before, and I never run across it. I hit that thing, and it just threw the disk plumb up in the air. I thought, ‘What in the world did I run over?’ ”

Eichstadt found a roundish rock a little larger than a basketball.

“I was going to lift it up and set it on the tip of the disk wing and haul it to the end of the field. I couldn’t lift it.

“A rock that size, you can pick it up with just a little bit of effort. I leaned in and thought, ‘Boy, this is something else.’ ”

He was able to roll it up a ramp of dirt piled up by the disk and onto the implement. By this time he was pretty sure what he had. The disk had gouged a small chip in the gray and black rock and the inside “was shiny like steel.”

Eichstadt hauled it home and tried to cut it with a hacksaw. “I tried four blades on it, and it burnt the teeth right off them blades,” he recalls.

The rock only a little larger than a basketball turned out to weigh 160 pounds.

The meteorite discovery made Eichstadt a local celebrity for a time, and the rock spent years on his porch.

“There were times you’d have to step around it,” he says. “But you’d admire it. I sure did.”

Eventually his father and brother sold it to a collector in Malta, Mont.

“He gave them quite a sum of money for it,” Eichstadt says.

The meteorite was cut in two, and half of it went to a University of Arizona researcher.

Eichstadt said he saw a picture of the meteorite among his father’s things at a nursing home about a month ago. Before that, “I hadn’t thought about it for a while.”

Eichstadt is 70 now, a semi-retired truck driver who still hauls fertilizer from North Dakota to Nebraska. When he’s out on the road at night “I notice falling stars in the distance. There’s a flicker and the light goes out. That would be a treat to see one of them hit the ground again and be able to drive to it.”

He doesn’t seem obsessed, however, by a desire to handle something from beyond earth again.

But it is taking over Duszynski’s life.

“I eat, breathe and sleep meteors now,” he admits. “I am so excited about this project.”

Source: argusleader.com

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