Thursday, July 13, 2006

Meteorite re-enters Winton's atmosphere

ON March 31, 2004, Winton residents were literally left shaking in their boots as a meteorite ignited on entering the earth’s atmosphere, leaving behind a black trail in the evening sky above the Outback town.

Soon after many recalled feeling like they were "under attack" when the meteorite hit the earth, somewhere in Western Queensland.

Using neighbour hearsay to pinpoint the location of this yet-to-be-identified falling object, Winton grazier David Elliott set about on a two-year journey to uncover the mysterious item.

Late last month, Mr Elliott finally stumbled across two pieces of ‘space rock’ which lit up the sky in 2004.

"It all started out with a bunch of hearsay from the locals, each adding their understanding of which way the meteorite was headed," Mr Elliott said.

"I made contact with those that had witnessed the event in 2004, finding out what direction it had come from, its angle of descent, when it started to burn and when it stopped.

"Using this information I was able to put together co-ordinates and, as you could imagine, they were all over the place.
"We managed to narrow it down to an area within five to 10 kilometres, which is quite a bit of land to look over – that’s why it has taken me so long to find the bloody thing."

Coincidently, Mr Elliott had been on a trip to the Queensland Museum in Brisbane prior to the 2004 event to check out its latest meteorite display.

"These meteorites are not the first I have found - the funny thing is that two months after I visited the Queensland Museum I found a meteorite.

"I knew exactly what I was looking for, there are certain aspects of a meteorite that separates them from just an ordinary rock.
"I always hoped I would find them, at times I wondered if I ever would.
"It was the most exciting thing in my life; you couldn’t get the smile off my face."

Queensland Museum’s geoscience senior curator Doctor Alex Cook identified the fragmented specimens as stony meteorites or ‘chondrites’.

"Both are very fresh, and have not been exposed to the weather for more than a year or two," Dr Cook said.

"They are the largest so far found from this district and will provide us with important clues in understanding the origin of the solar system and even our own planet.
"Meteorites are fragments of the solar system that have fallen to the Earth.
"When the fragment enters the atmosphere, air resistance causes its body to heat up and emit light, thus forming a meteor or shooting star.
"Sometimes remains of these shooting stars fall to earth."

The next day the meteorite fall was the talk of the town with concerned Western Queensland choking talk-back radio and lines to emergency services.

"The first I knew of it was when the governess came racing across to the house saying that the chairs in the school room were shaking," Mr Elliott said.

"Because my wife and I didn’t hear it, we just assumed it was some wind in the tanks.
"But it really frightened everyone in the district.
"Then the phones started to ring – everyone was trying to find out what it was, whether we had seen it – there was a real panic.
"Looking back I really wished I could have witnessed it – I think we are the only ones in the whole district who didn’t see or hear it, and I’m the one who ends up finding it!"

A seventeen kilogram meteorite went on display at Winton’s Waltzing Matilda Centre yesterday where it will remain until September, while tests are performed on the smaller sample.

Eventually the Winton Shire Council plans to house the find in the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History.


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