[meteorite-list] Case study: Lake Eyre meteorite vs. U.S.

From: Matson, Rob D. <ROBERT.D.MATSON_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Mon, 18 Jan 2016 20:12:36 +0000
Message-ID: <4A4FA25E4DFE584AA580F4F069F9B440B5238852_at_EMP-EXMR104.corp.leidos.com>

Hi Ian,

Since you brought up the Creston fall, presumably as a comparison example against
current Australian state policies, I feel some counter-commentary is appropriate.

> Creston is a example of where things went a bit pair shaped in my mind for science.

In my opinion, Creston was really no stranger than Sutter's Mill, Novato, Battle Mountain,
Mifflin or Ash Creek. Science has been well served by all of these falls.

> USA had a private network of cameras setup that captured the fireball, a private individual
> and some others extracted that meteorite, the first piece(s) was then on?sold. Finally it
> was sold for a ridiculous price. Not illegal or immoral......just not ideal

I think what you are getting at is that only a small fraction of each of these falls made
it into the hands of researchers. There are a couple points to consider:

(1) How much material do researchers really need to extract the majority of pertinent
scientific data from a fall? Sure, if you had infinite time you'd love to have all of it since
the individual meteorites from a fall are not necessarily homogenous. (Case in point:
Almahata Sitta). But balanced against this is the question of how much more you're
going to learn by analyzing all of the stones from an L6 fall.

(2) If private citizens were prohibited from profiting from the recovery of meteorites,
would you expect a negative impact on the quantity of recovered material from a
new fall? I think this is undeniable, and therefore it certainly follows that the total
mass deposited with accredited institutions would suffer. And it's not just the
quantity, it's the quality. A meteorite recovered within 24 hours of a fall is obviously
more scientifically valuable than one recovered a month later, when terrestrial
weathering has altered some rare minerals, and short-lived radioisotopes have
decayed below the threshold of detectability.

(3) Successful meteorite recovery requires a significant skill set AND considerable
expenditures of time and money. In the U.S., I expect that more than 95% of the
annual resources made available through government grants to recover meteorites
goes to ANSMET. I've spent thousands of unpaid hours on the analysis of nearly
all U.S. falls that have occurred in the last 15 years, as well as a number of falls
outside America, and have devoted a not insignificant amount of time and money
traveling to many of these places to recover meteorites. On each of these
expeditions I tend to encounter the same couple dozen of dedicated individuals --
names that would all be familiar to anyone on the Meteorite List. On occasion I have
seen other scientists "in the field," but I suspect in most cases it was on their
own dime and not in an official paid capacity. Meteoriticists are paid to analyze
meteorites, not run around the country recovering them.

> Now in Australia, we do have an likely?issue of finds being hidden ( old falls and
> cold finds) due to our state laws. However this material will just add to the 50,000
> stones we need to know more about. Where these laws are a benefit is that when
> our DFN etc detects a fall, scientists (not private hunters looking for profit or cost
> recovery) will go out grab the stone and bring it back!

Perhaps in Australia this happens. I have not seen evidence that this is the case
in the U.S. Researchers have access to the same information that I do: Doppler
radar, seismic networks, all-sky cameras, internet posts, the AMS website and
a dozen other resources. Nothing other than time and funding is stopping them
from competing with private citizens.

> We will know where it came from, where it landed, who found it, what it is and
> where it will stay exactly. With much more than just a classification but, rare orbit
> data - which is contributing greatly to mapping our solar system and more!

Well, we got all of that on both Sutter's Mill and Creston, in spite of the problems
of private land ownership and considerably harder searching conditions than the
almost ideal surfaces of the Australian outback. So both systems can work. I just
think the current U.S. laws favor a higher success rate than in Australia because
they (at least currently) provide enough incentive to boost the people-hours
that get devoted to each fall.

Best wishes,
Received on Mon 18 Jan 2016 03:12:36 PM PST

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