Ash Creek

Fell February 15, 2009 at ~ 11:00 AM.

Hill and McLennan Counties, Texas

(L6 chondrite brecciated)

Total estimated material recovered ~12 kilograms and more than 400 stones.

 

At ~11:00 am, a very bright and long lasting low angle fireball was observed crossing over central Texas from the east-southeast to the west-northwest. The fireball was filmed by a news crew in Austin Texas, nearly 100 miles (160km) away while covering a marathon. The fireball was very bright with a long tail comprised of many burning pieces and multiple large fragmentations could be seen in the video.

 

  

 

Note how they say it was caused by debris from the satellite collision from a week before, of course it was not but it took days to convince the media that it was actually a meteorite fall.

The above video was taken by the Waco Herald Tribune about an hour after we found the first piece.

When I saw the video on the news, I knew it was a large meteorite fall, and I began to make preparations to go to Texas immediately. Later that evening, I got a call from Robert Woolard, a good friend and fellow meteorite hunter with whom I have been on meteorite adventures with all over the world, from the Arctic in Sweden to the deserts of Arabia. He sent me radar data that he had been emailed which showed a rapidly moving cloud of debris over the town of West, in central Texas. This was the area where large explosions were heard. This was barely 10 hours after the fall. With this data, we knew we had the location of the meteorite fall down!

Above you can see the set of Doppler radar images, taken seconds apart but showing the expanding cloud of debris rapidly moving to the west-northwest. The first image is the one on the right, the subsequent image was taken ~8 seconds later on the left. In only 8 seconds the cloud had expanded dramatically and moved several miles to the west, possible only for something moving at very high speed. When I saw this, I immediately check the weather for this area and it was a clear day, so I know that this was a large cloud of meteorite stones imaged by the radar. The Doppler radar is a device that measures the Doppler shift in a radar beam reflected from an object's motion towards or away from the radar aerial. To the radar, the rapidly moving cloud of stones reflecting the radar beams looked just like a hailstorm without the storm! This is the first time that Doppler radar has been used to pinpoint the location of a meteorite fall. The meteorite strewnfield was later proven to be exactly in the zone shown on the radar images.

 I was on the phone for hours making plans to get to Texas, inviting friends and partners on the expedition, and bursting with excitement for a new meteorite chase in my own country for once. Mortiz Karl was at my house and scheduled to fly to Germany the next day, so he rapidly changed his tickets and we bought tickets to Dallas instead. The interesting thing on the timing of this fall was that it was the day after the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show ended, I had been busy for one month selling meteorites at the show, and my living room was still covered with the boxes of meteorites from the showroom. They sat there for another month while I was in the field. Had this meteorite fallen any time before that, I would never have been able to leave the show to hunt.

Monday afternoon, Moritz  Karl and I flew to Texas and arrived in Waco near midnight, due to flight delays. I could have driven there faster. On Tuesday morning, Robert Ward, Moritz Karl, Shauna Russell and I met for breakfast and our first stop was the Waco Tribune, the local newspaper covering the central Texas area. I know from experience that the media is the best hope to get the news out about a new fall, to excite locals and to help locate the first pieces. At this time, no news of any finds had come out. The newspaper people all told us that the fireball was caused by the satellite collision, not a meteorite fall. We had to work hard to convince them that we knew what we were talking about. The finally agreed to do a story about our meteorite hunt and interviewed us for more than an hour. We then headed immediately for the town of West, which is where we projected that the strewnfield would be.  When we arrived we split into three groups (Robert Woolard and his son had arrived from Arkansas by car and was already in the area). We wanted to all cover different areas of the rural farmland to interview as many people as possible. I then got a call from the newspaper editor who was coming out to the area to meet us and take photos of the hunt. Moments later I got a call from Robert Ward, who had gone to a fertilizer dealer and was told that yes, stones had fallen on his ranch when the fireball passed overhead!  This was incredible, merely 30 minutes after arriving in the projected strewnfield, we had possible proof that the meteorite had fallen there. As I waited for Robert and Shauna to go with the farmer back to his house, the news crew showed up. I was with Woolard and the news crew when Robert called to confirm that stones had been found, we rushed 3 miles to the area and went to the farm.

The news people of course wanted the scoop, but the farmer and his family were very private people and did not really want so many people there. In an amazing twist of fate, some competitors of mine had arrived by car the afternoon before and had already met with the landowners after a chance meeting in a local cafe. They were already hunting meteorites when we arrived and due to the fact that they were there first, we were asked to leave the farm. Moments after being evicted from that land, while talking with the news crew, Moritz Karl looked down and picked up a ~15 gram 100% crusted meteorite out of the road! None of us had even seen it.

The mad rush to find meteorites began. I hunted until it was too dark to see, but Moritz was the only one who found a meteorite that day. The news editor told us that he could hold the story for a day to allow us to hunt in peace, but we later decided that it was best to make the announcement that the meteorite had been found and allow anyone who wanted to come the chance to hunt immediately. We did this because we could see that it was a very large strewnfield and that much land would be lost quickly to the plow. That night, the news article came out on the Waco Herald Tribune website and I told Greg Hupe who posted it to the meteorite world late that night, and by the next morning, Texas was crawling with meteorite hunters.

Waco Tribune article #1 about our group and the Ash Creek meteorite fall. CLICK HERE.

Waco Herald Tribune article a month later, when I returned for the third time to purchase second largest mass recovered. CLICK HERE.

I spent the next full month hunting meteorites in Texas, and went three times back to buy stones from landowners who had picked up pieces. More than 400 meteorite pieces were found by nearly 80 known meteorite hunters from all over the world who descended on the Texas landscape. We all had a blast at this meteorite fall and many new hunters and collectors came and found their first meteorite fall pieces there.

The strewnfield is more than 14 miles long and more than 1 mile wide, and what is amazing is that the small stones, 1 gram to 10 grams are found in a more than 5 mile swath, much longer than normal with very odd distribution of weights, not the normal size grading we expect. There were very high mid-level winds blowing from the west that day, so it is likely that the smaller stones were even blown backwards, and the multiple disruptions likely caused a high mixture of stones at different intervals, producing the strewnfield with mixture of small and medium size stones in the same areas.

The Ask Creek strewnfield was a mixture of rural and urban land, mostly farms and on those farms a mixture of pasture comprised of high grass and trees (very difficult to locate small stones), cow fields (rather easy to find stones) and plowed agricultural land (also good hunting area). The problem was that it fell in springtime, and even the day of the fall farmers were plowing land up with tractors. I calculate that at least 40% of the strewnfield was destroyed before we could ever hunt it, burying the small stones forever.

The image above is from the March 17 edition of the Waco Herald Tribune. It is the approximate flight path and cone of the strewnfield showing areas where we found meteorites. Pieces were found all the way to the start point on the right hand side but they did not show pieces there. You can also see clearly where three pieces were found on the west side of the interstate I35. This map while not exact, gives a good idea what a strewnfield looks like and how I narrow down possible hunting areas.

The Google Earth map above is a partial list of stones found me and my group. It is nowhere near complete, and although I tried to assemble a map of stones found by competitors, there were too many and it was impossible to coordinate so much data and hunt meteorites. The map represents much of the center of the strewnfield, it extends to the east  at least two miles past my last point and to the west all the way to the town of Aquilla more than 6 miles past my last point in the town of West. At the far left on the map you can see a point, this was a 130 gram stone which hit the roof of a house and bounced off. I tried everything to buy that stone, to no avail. No other stones were found near it despite intensive searching.

 

The map above shows some of the finds on the Kaska farm. Everyone had wanted to hunt this clean land but the owners had no interest in people there. About two weeks into the hunt, I got a call in response to one of my ads in the newspaper where I offered to buy stones from landowners. The entire family there had found a few stones and I rushed over to buy what they had found. After negotiating for hours, I finally convinced them to allow  Greg Hupe and I to hunt their property and pay for anything we found. We were able to find many stones there, but unfortunately about 25% of the farm had been plowed before we could hunt, likely destroying a great many stones. Multiple stones were found near the house (low grass thus easy hunting) and one was found by one of the children while hanging clothes on the clothesline. It seems that stones were always found in small patches, with large areas having no meteorites at all.

The Kaska family was very nice to us and excited that meteorites had fallen on their farm.

Above is a photo of my first Ash Creek meteorite, found at 10:30 am on February 19, 09. I went into some trees to take care of some "business" and when I looked down, there was this amazing little stone just laying in the deep grass. It weighs 12.87 grams. Coordinates N314831.4 W0970028.6

 

 
This photo taken by Robert Woolard was my 3rd stone, found by me on 20 February, 2009 weighing in at 17.24 grams. I found this just after Rob Woolard Jr. found an extraordinary 130 gram stone and moments later a ~45 gram stone.  I was by the fence and saw this one laying in the dirt.
Coordinates N314819.8 W0970033.2
 
 
Our group on the first days of he hunt, from left to right Rob Woolard JR, Michael Farmer, Robert Ward center pointing at his first find, Moritz Karl from Germany, and at far right, Dave Gheesling from Georgia. Note the very thick brush in this field, while very hard to hunt meteorites, we still recovered many stones from this area, but surely there are many more under the grass. A future site to pick up stones in the years to come? Sure, there are hundreds and likely thousands more stones from this massive meteorite fall that were not found, all it takes is time and persistence.
 

This is a great photo, Shauna Russell finding her first Ash Creek meteorite. She had been hunting for days with no luck, but this one was an amazing ~70 gram broken stone. She was so excited that she plopped right down to take the photo, and did not notice the larger than life pile of cow dung she laid in. This photo was Rocks from Space picture of the day and went worldwide. She was a good sport about it though, and had the last laugh, as the stone was sold to a very important collector for a large amount of money.

 

This is another stone I found, this one on the Kaska farm, this stone is now in the Arizona State University meteorite collection.

 

Myself on the Kaska farm, finding a nice stone. Many stones were found in this low grass area.

 

 

A few days after the fall Moritz Karl and I traveled to Fort Worth to meet with Dr. Art Ehlmann and Theresa Moss at the Texas Christian University (TCU). Art is the curator of the Monnig Meteorite Collection, the largest in Texas. I presented Art with a small stone I found, so that he would have a piece of this new Texas fall as rapidly as possible. Later I know that he traveled to West many times and was able to get more stones through purchase and donation. I feel it is very important to make sure that prominent meteorite collection in institutions have representative stones from every fall.

 

This is my largest Ash Creek meteorite find, a 68.83 gram stone still embedded in the soil where it landed. I found this stone minutes after arriving back to the strewnfield after visiting the TCU collection on 24 February 2009.

 

Another stone I found on the Kaska farm. Also exchanged to the ASU meteorite collection in Tempe.

 

This is a close-up of a small stone I found, showing the typical black fusion crust on stones that have never been rained on.   

We were fortunate to get nearly a month to hunt the strewnfield before the first rains came and damaged the stones. Almost all Ask Creek stones found were pristine, undamaged by rain and most exhibit a fusion crust that is as good as it gets. I personally found a total of 20 stones, and purchased many more, including a 1.5 kilogram stone found near Aquilla by a landowner.

Ash Creek is a meteorite fall that will go down in memory as a great time, a difficult hunt where you were lucky to find one stone every other day or so, they never came easy. Most stones were small, under 20 grams, and they were so hard to find that most collectors preferred to keep all they found. I gave two stones away, and exchanged with museums 4 other stones I found, the other 14 stones  I am keeping in my collection.