“This is the first time in history that a meteorite has been filmed in the air after its light goes out,” says geologist Hans Amundsen.
One summer day in 2012, Anders Helstrup and several other members of Oslo Parachute Club jumped from a small plane that had taken off from Østre Æra Airport in Hedmark.
Helstrup, wearing a wing suit and with two cameras fixed to his helmet, released his parachute. On the way down he realised something was happening.
“I got the feeling that there was something, but I didn’t register what was happening,” Helstrup explained to NRK.no.
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Immediately after landing, he looked through the film from the jump, which clearly showed that something did happen.
Something that looks like a stone hurtles past Helstrup – clearing him by only a few metres.
Search party in the forest
Later that day, Helstrup returned to Oslo. But he could not stop thinking about his strange experience, so he took time off from work to go back to the Rena area for a couple of days to look for the stone – but with no luck.
Anders Helstrup in his wing suit. FOTO: ROGER MYREN / NRK
“We continued the search during the summer. I got my girlfriend, family and friends to join the project. We searched the forest and kept looking."
By then, Helstrup had already formed the idea that it was a meteorite that flew past him.
“When we stopped the film, we could clearly see something that looked like a stone. At first it crossed my mind that it had been packed into a parachute, but it’s simply too big for that.”
Meteorite experts get involved
Eventually Helstrup contacted the Natural History Museum in Oslo.
“The film caused a sensation in the meteorite community. They seemed convinced that this was a meteorite, perhaps I was the one who was the most sceptical.”
Now Helstrup suddenly had a whole flock of meteorite enthusiasts following him. They analysed and triangulated and narrowed down the search area.
In the summer of 2012 Helstrup and his helpers had begun searching an area of one and a half square kilometres. Today, the area has been limited to 100 times a hundred meters, but that’s big enough – especially when you’re not really sure what a meteorite looks like.
“I found a stone which I thought was a meteorite and took it to the museum. They just fell about laughing,” Helstrup revealed.
“It can’t be anything else”
Although Helstrup is still not completely convinced that it was indeed a meteorite that flew past him, the experts are in no doubt.
“It can’t be anything else. The shape is typical of meteorites – a fresh fracture surface on one side, while the other side is rounded,” said geologist Hans Amundsen.
He explained that the meteorite had been part of a larger stone that had exploded perhaps 20 kilometres above Helstrup.
Amundsen thinks he can make out coloured patches in the stone, and believes that in that case it may be a breccia – a common type of meteorite rock.
Eldrid Borgan, Hans Amundsen, Anders Helstrup and Morten Bilet at Naturhistorisk Museum. FOTO: ROGER MYREN / NRK
“A world first”
When a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it slows down and ionizes molecules around it; it is this blazing track across the sky that is called a meteor.
When the light disappears, the meteorite enters the stage called "dark flight"; it then no longer travels at an angle, but falls straight down.
“It has never happened before that a meteorite has been filmed during dark flight; this is the first time in world history,” said Amundsen.
That fact means that the meteorite, which Amundsen says would normally be worth a few hundred thousand kroner, is actually far more valuable than its weight would suggest.
How valuable the meteorite may be remains irrelevant so long as it has not been found.
“We just have to find out exactly where Anders was when the meteorite passed. At that moment the meteorite was falling straight down at about 300 kilometres per hour,” said Amundsen.
He points out that the terrain is difficult to search in – marshes, thick forest and scrub. And now they want help in both calculating and searching. To get help, they have created a website.
“The aim of the website is to present the story in simple terms, relating what happened and letting people see the videos and still pictures,” explained Helstrup.
“Now nerds and creative people from all over the world can have a go,” said Amundsen.
He finds it hard to give an opinion on the probability of filming a meteorite during a parachute jump, but makes a try anyway.
“It’s certainly much less likely than winning the lottery three times in a row.”