Whetstone Mountains, Arizona

On the night of June 22, 2009, a small asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere above Mexico, moving roughly NNE.  It broke up over Southern Arizona, scattering stones over an area somewhat West of Benson, Arizona.  Meteorite hunter and collector Jack Schrader interviewed eyewitnesses and found the first stone a few days after the fall. He invited some friends to hunt with him, and his team eventually recovered twenty-some stones from the fall.

This photo was posted on Michael Johnson’s Rocks From Space Picture of the Day website on July 4, 2009. This is the 155 gram meteorite found ~45 hours after the fall. Copyright Jack Schrader (?)

 

At first, Jack had planned to keep the location of the fall a secret for only a short while in the hope that he and his friends could hunt unhindered before other people swarmed over the area, overwhelming the locals (e.g. Ash Creek and other falls).  If anyone else had been lucky enough to find a stone early on, it seems likely that the fall location would have become common knowledge very quickly, resulting in strewn-field chaos and stones being poorly documented.

Some meteorite enthusiasts didn’t take kindly to this approach.  While some focused on hunting in what they hoped was the right area, a few others apparently harassed members of Jack’s hunting team, to the point that he made the decision to keep the locations of the team’s finds under wraps, perhaps for good.  There are some pretty crazy stories about what some people may have done in their attempts to glean the location of the fall.

We had been to the area before, but Peter and I had some more time off of work/school: we had a week to find something.  Since the drive was ~8 hours, we decided to spend the daylight of the first day at a California dry lake, and to finish the drive Eastward later that night.

We had brought bicycles to cover area efficiently on the lake bed.  After splitting up and hunting for some time, I came into an area that looked promising; there was a low rise in the lake bed made of sediment and embedded caliche nodules.  It seemed to be an ancient sediment bar that had likely formed when the lake was still permanently wet, some 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.  Some rocks were scattered along the sides of it — almost all were well-rounded and desert varnished.  I got off the bike and started walking.

Within minutes, one of the rocks stood out from the other stones — it was particularly dark, jumped to a magnet, and appeared to have fusion crust.  In total, we recovered ~20 fragments of the new meteorite with a total weight of ~15-20 grams. Most of the fragments weighed less than a gram.

One of the larger fragments with fusion crust: ~5 grams. The meteorite appears to be an equilibrated H chondrite.

 

That evening, we finished the drive to Arizona.

We woke up before sunrise and returned after dark each day.  We changed locations one or two times per day, covering as much ground as possible.  On a previous trip, we’d heard rumors about finds being made near an airport, or near radio towers, etc.  The terrain near each of these locations didn’t seem to match the in-situ photographs of any of the finds.  There were multiple radio towers on different sides of the valley.

After the third day of hunting, we came back to the hotel, disheartened.  After three days of hard walking, the idea that we might be in the wrong area, wasting every mile hiked, was weighing more and more heavily upon us.  We sat down, reviewed our notes, and decided to spend the next day near an area we’d already looked at.

The sunrise that morning was better than usual —

And we started hiking.

At around 2:30pm, we were walking down a slope ~20 feet from each other…when Peter gave a shout.  Lo and behold — we’d found one!

To my knowledge, we are the only hunters who went to the area and found a stone without being told where to look by Jack Schrader, or anyone else.  We still don’t know exactly where our stone was found in relation to the other finds.

The remaining few days didn’t yield much, except for sore feet.  This recently deceased fellow below was the only thing of note.