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A Hunting Trip To Xishuangbanna

June 1, 2018, is destined to be an unusual Children’s Day. My friends’ circle on WeChat is filled with pictures and jokes about pretending to be young and then begging for Children’s Day gifts. Nothing changed until 10 p.m. when a message came in.

The message was sent by Tang Yao, a reporter from a Beijing local newspaper. She interviewed me on September 2017 due to the fireball event that happened during the night of the mid-autumn festival in Shangri-la, Yunnan Province, and keeps in contact with me since then. The message this time containing a short video, which is also a meteor fireball taken about 17 minutes ago in Jinghong City, Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous region, Yunnan province.

Above is the video regarding the fireball and early found meteorites

The video is about 10 seconds long and was taken alongside a river with a very noisy background environment. When it comes to the 4th second of the video the sky suddenly brightened, and a white-colored fireball with a flaming tail passed through the cloudy sky at a very fast speed, and then vanished within 4 seconds. From the diameter of the fireball, the length of the tail, the moving speed, and the intermittent light waves during the final stage of the luminous flight caused by the sound-barrier tremor, I am sure this is a typical meteorite falling event.

Above are the pictures of the fireball

I told Tang Yao that the fireball should be caused by a meteorite fall, and then she asked me if there are any chances to find the meteorites. I thought for a second and then told her: Xishuangbanna is a mountainous and forested area unless the meteorite fell in a human lived place, otherwise it is very difficult to do the searching. However, I could not imagine that the word “unless” in the extreme case of my reply has come true.

Early on the morning of June 2th, when I woke up and opened my mobile phone to check the new updates of my Wechat friend circle, I found several of my friends shared a video of a meteorite. In the video, a man is holding a chipped meteorite. The meteorite is very fresh and by viewing its broken surface I believe it should be a chondrite. The video was shot from a downside view, and the photographer was surrounded by several other people, most of them were wearing slippers and speaking a south-east Asian like language. I asked the friends who shared the video, but no one knows where the video was originally from.

Above is the early found meteorite by the local people

I then forwarded the video to Tang Yao, working in journalism for many years she has the resources to deal with this kind of thing, and several minutes later she found a professional who knows the Southeast Asian dialect very well. The feedback from the professional says that the language in the video is from the Dai people, an ethnic minority living at the Chinese and Burmese border. Remembering the video of the fireball appeared in Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous region a day ago, I began to be excited. In China, a witnessed fall meteorite will appear, on average, 1 or 2 years per time. And the last witnessed meteorite shower happened already over 6 years ago in Xining. That is to say, there is no way for me to give up such an ideal opportunity to hunt for fresh meteorites!

From the June 1st fireball video, I know that the photographer was facing to the west direction. And by using the building inside the video as a referential object, the fireball should be flying in the direction from SEE to NWW by the falling angle of 60°. According to my experiences, the intruder will suffer more pressure as long as it dived into the atmosphere in the opposite direction of the earth’s rotational way, as a result, it will lead to more explosions, and then more fragmentations. Thus, in more chances, it will be turned out a meteorite shower.

On 9 am June 3rd, one of my meteorite friends sent me some photos and short videos indicating that there are already several collectors arrived at the meteorite falling areas. According to the video, it seems there are at least 7 or 8 meteorites had been found, weighing from 20 to 150 grams each. A broken piece shows some shock veins and impact melt pockets, which are conspicuous in contrast with the white-colored matrix, but there is no obvious chondrule. From that characteristics, I reckon the meteorite probably is a L6 chondrite, and the shock stage should be no less than S3.

The last time I was chasing a meteorite shower was in Feb 2012 in Xining, Qinghai province, and cannot restrict my excited feelings to prepare the luggage and book the air tickets to hunt for the new one. However, it is already 4 pm at that point and there are no planes that can reach the Xishuangbanna airport during the rest few hours of the day. Then I flew to Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province at 9 pm, then waited in the airport for the whole night, and transferred to Xishuangbanna in the early morning of June 4th. I went to the Mengzhe town by taxi, and  transferred to a rental motorcycle, then rushed to the strewn field villages.

Above is the meteorite falling locality after rainfall with a rainbow

The first village I arrived in is Mankailong, which is about 5 km from Mengzhe town. I walked into the village on 10:30 am, then a local woman comes close and showed me a newly found meteorite. I noticed some mud and water stains on the meteorite surface and then asked her if the meteorite was found in the crop fields. She can understand my standard mandarin, but I cannot understand her local dialect, so she acknowledged my judgment with a nod. I asked her how much she wants to sell, and one of the onlookers asked me “how much you can offer” as the reply. According to my experiences in this condition, the chance to make a deal is pretty low, then I shook my head and walked towards the crop fields.

Above are the meteorites the local villagers found in the crop fields

Outside the Mankailong village there is an earth road leading to Manlun village and Manlei village, flanked by rice fields and sugarcane fields. As the rice plants are closely spaced and fulfilled with water and mud, as the result most local people were gathering in the sugarcane fields to search for meteorites, and exciting hurrahs of finding a meteorite can be heard occasionally. I eagerly went down the field ridge to check the newly found meteorites, and the local people were also gathered around me to show their treasures. I saw at least 20 meteorites at that time weighing from 40 to 180 grams, and the villagers told me all of the meteorites were found within a square kilometer area. According to the number and size of the meteorites, I think this place is probably the dense area in the strewn field. Considering the flying direction of the fireball, I reckon in the SE direction there should be more meteorites, but smaller in size; and in the NW direction the number of the meteorites should be less abundant, but in a bigger size.

Above is the earth road from Mankailong to Manlun village

At that time, a black SUV stopped and 2 young men walked out. They said they were coming from Manguang village, which is 2 km on the SE direction from the sugarcane fields, and there are also 2 meteorites landing on their roof tiles. They showed me a 5g meteorite with dark fusion crust, which is fresher a lot than those found in the sugarcane fields.

As later that day, Tang Yao, the news reporter, will come to the meteorite falling place and arranged an online live broadcast with me together, and I must take the limited time to visit as many of the meteorite landing places as possible to provide the accurate information to the audience. So I gave up the chances to search the dense area in front of me and followed the young men to go to Manguang and the adjacent villages in the next hours. I stopped at the villages of Manguang, Manyangnan, Manpan, and Manmedai, and viewed at least another 20 meteorites all weighing under 30g each. Since the local people have not started to search in the rice fields, there are not many meteorites as I imagined at that time. Based on the above information, I believed that the Manguang village should be the tail of the strewn field. A few days later, however, it turns out that the Manguang village is far from the beginning of the strewn field.

Above is the writer at Manyangnan village

The online live broadcast began at 5 pm. First of all we take place on the earth road between Mankailong and Manlei village to report the people searching meteorites in the sugarcane fields; then we move to Manlei village, there a meteorite crashed into the house roof of Yu Ershuo’s home, and finally we transferred to Manmedai village to visit Yan Wennan’s home.

Above are the meteorite fragments and the pigsty roof had been hit

Yan Wennan is a 40-years-old local peasant, his family income mainly relies on agriculture planting. When the meteorite shower happened he was lying in the room, and heard noisy detonations and a thud inside his yard. He thought it might be someone throwing a brick fragment into his yard by a stupid behavior. The second day early in the morning, he found the asbestos roof tile on the pigsty was broken, and some stone fragments with partial dark crusts were littered in front of the pigsty. Judging from the circumstances, Yan Wennan thought it might be a stone falling from the upside and hit the asbestos tile, then knocked the cement ground floor, as a result, the tile broke and the stone fragmented. During the next few days, the meteorite shower news spread to the local villagers by their Wechat chatting groups, and by viewing the photos on Wechat groups Yan Wennan acknowledged that he got a meteorite landing on his pigsty too.

Above is the  video taken at Yan Wennan’s home

I met Yan Wennan at the grocery store in Mankailong village and he told me the story of his pigsty roof tile which was hit by a meteorite, then he showed me a local coarse cloth wrapped bag. I opened the bag and some meteorite fragments came to the light. The fragments are as fresh as the piece from the young men of the Manguang village, however, Yan Wennan’s fragments are covered with the bubble fusion crust. So I know this guy is lucky enough to have an oriented piece hit his pigsty roof, unfortunately, the meteorite was fragmented. After a few minutes of negotiation, I purchased Yan Wennan’s roof crusher fragments, and the asbestos tile hit by the meteorite was also included.

Above are the meteorite fragments and the pigsty roof had been hit

I stayed at a hotel in Mengzhe town during the night and came to the strewn field again early in the morning on June 5th. The meteorite falling place is on a plateau at the altitude of 1800 meters, and the air is very clear, as a result, the ultraviolet is pretty strong. I come from the famous air polluted Beijing and do not have any idea regarding ultraviolet protection. After hanging outside for the first whole day, my neck, arms, and other exposed skin were seriously sunburned. When I sheltered in Mankailong village to avoid the daylight sunshine, I found some villagers trickled into a neighbor’s yard. As the people were a little bit crowded there, I also walked into the courtyard to see what had happened. It turns out that a local businessman was buying meteorites there. After bargaining for a while, he paid for an 86g individual for over 24000RMB (equal to $3700), which is already exceeded the current gold price. According to the price he spent and the meteorite he selected, I guess he is not an experienced collector. However, it is a good beginning for both the meteorite finders and the buyers, as the meteorites can be realized at a high price and the buyers can purchase some samples after all.

Above is the writer sitting at Mankailong village trying to buy the meteorites from the local people

In terms of national tradition, the Dai race is water-loving people, and they like to live alongside the rivers or lakes. In the Xishuangbanna region, each Dai village will possess a water-well covering with an ancient tower on it, which they called the tower-well and is usually the same age as the village. They use the well water to cook, drink and also for celebrating their Water Sprinkling Festival. The tower-well in Mankailong is located at the eastern entrance of the village, close to a brook which flows from the northern mountain areas. During the first several days, the local villager Yu Erjiao was searching for the meteorite with her neighbors in the sugarcane fields, but she had found nothing. On June 5th, when she walked pass by the tower-well, she suddenly noticed there is a meteorite trapped in a gap on the NW side of the tower-well. I heard the story in the afternoon of the same day and then asked Yu Erjiao after buying her meteorite to take me to visit the tower-well again.

Above is the tower-well where Yu Erjiao found her meteorite

The tower is about 2.5m high, with a sharp top and hollow inside, without any decorated pattern outside. On the south part of the tower body, there is a window for drawing water, and some Buddhist scriptures can be noticed on the inner wall just facing to the window. Some aerial root from the nearby old tree had invaded into the tower body, and it seems after many years restorations the tower and its base were out of plumb already. The gap in which the meteorite hit and was trapped is about 1.5m from the ground, and the meteorite was very fresh. Yu Erjiao put the meteorite back to its original way when finding, and the meteorite fit the gap very suitable. From the gap and the way the meteorite was trapped, I can imagine it flying from the NW direction.

Above is the Buddhist scriptures inside the tower-well

Yu Erjiao is a pious Buddhist when leading me to visit the tower-well she told me an aspiration. As this locality is in the humid tropical area, every year there will be a long term rainy season. The water torrent will come from the mountain area, and the brook will be flooded. As a consequence, the tower will be watered for several months, which is no good for its protection. Yu Erjiao believes the trapped meteorite is an implication by the Sakyamuni Buddha for her to protect the ancient tower, and if she can sell the meteorite at a very good price she will use the money to build up a circle wall outside the tower, to protect it during the future rainy seasons. My heart was filled with admiration when hearing her aspiration, and I really hope her wish will come true in the near future.

Above is the gap on the tower-well which the meteorite was trapped (meteorite position may not be positioned like the original)

On June 6th, one of my acquainted dealers from Guangdong province got information, that at Manyan village there is an old man hammering a meteorite into pieces in front of his home. I was astonished by the news and decided to visit Manyan village the next day. Manyan is located  about 5 km in the NW direction of Mankailong village. If the sugarcane field near Mankailong village is the dense area, then the pieces found in Manyan village might be one of the biggest individuals. We arrived at the Manyan village early in the morning on June 7th, and by consulting the villagers we met the old man who hammered the meteorite. His name is Yan Changnan, also a local peasant. After a shower on June 5th, he found his home yard was filled with water, then went out to the yard and checked the drainage system. He found there a dark-colored stone  had blocked the drainage path, and then he kicked out the stone and hammered it into pieces by a hoe. After doing this, Yan Changnan noticed the inner color of the stone is quite different than the outside, in addition, there are some metal flecks embedded on the fresh broken surface. Remembering his neighbors talking about that lots of people were searching meteorite at Mankailong and Manlei areas recently, he suddenly realized that what he had broken might be a meteorite. He picked and collected some bigger pieces of the stone, and all of the smaller size fragments were collected by his neighbors.

Above is the crater crashed by the meteorite at Manyan village

After talking for a while, Yan Changnan showed us a stainless steel bowl containing some fresh meteorite fragments. The fragments are about 500g and we purchased all of them at a reasonable price. Then we spent the rest of the day in Manyan village and purchased some smaller fragments collected by other villagers. The total weight of the broken pieces we purchase exceeded 1kg already. That means if the meteorite was not hammered into pieces by Yan Changnan, it must be weight over 1kg.

Above are parts of the meteorite fragments gathered at Manyan village

The ethic religion of Dai people is Theravada Buddhism. Every village possesses a temple, and each temple has an abbot. The abbot at the temple of Manlun village named Dubiyi, and it was said he also found a meteorite himself. As a result, everyone coming here to search for the meteorites is interested to have a look at the Buddhism related meteorite. On June 8th, when I went through Manlun village again, I met Dubiyi at his temple. As there are already 2 local people arrived earlier than me, Dubiyi invited the 3 of us to drink tea then showed us the meteorite when drinking. The meteorite is about 14 grams with a little bit of yellow dirt on the surface and seems nothing more special than those found in the sugarcane fields. After viewing his meteorite, the 2 local people wanted to visit the main hall and pray in front of the Buddha. Dubiyi asked me if I have the interest to go together, I replied when in Rome do as the Romans do, and then followed them to the main hall and praying.

Above are the local monk Dubiyi and the meteorite he claimed found by himself

It might be the reward for my devout blessing in front of the Buddha, I was hit by the luck on June 9th, a day before I came back to Beijing. As it is the final whole day that I can spend on the meteorite landing areas, I decided to hang at Manmedai village to seek the chances to purchase meteorites. Manmedai is located at SE side of Mankailong, and the dense area is just between the two villages. Also, Yan Wennan, the man whose pigsty was hit by a meteorite lives in Manmedai village, so I believed there should be more meteorite samples in the villager’s hands. However, when I walked into the village, there was already a dealer from Jiangsu province sitting at the east entrance of the village to purchase meteorites. To avoid the competition with the Jiangsu dealer, I wandered aimlessly along the village streets thinking about transferring to other villages to buy the meteorites. At that time a local woman walked close and told me that she also has a meteorite in her home, and then I followed her to look at the meteorite.

Above are Yu Eryang and the writer together with the meteorite and the crashed pottery roof tile

The name of the woman is Yu Eryang, living near the east entrance of the village. There is another neighbor’s house at the east side of Yu Eryang’s home, and they are sharing the same courtyard wall. The meteorite Yu Eryang showed me is a pack of fragments about 8 grams weight and very fresh. I asked her where did she found the meteorite, and she told me the meteorite was hitting on her kitchen’s roof, and then bounced into her yard. I turned my head and followed her guiding hand, then a broken pottery roof tile appeared into my eyes. I bargained a little bit, and then made the deal with her. When packing the meteorite fragments and the broken roof tile, Yu Eryang told  me a piece of information that there were actually 2 meteorites which hit on her roof. Besides the fragments I purchased, there is another one which hit the blue steel roof of her carport, and because of the steel’s elasticity, the meteorite bounced away and then landed in front of her neighbor’s house. The following day Yu Eryang found the roof of the carport was leaking when raining, and later her neighbor found a 27g meteorite with a few blue paint stains on the surface.

Above is the general view of the two meteorites hitting places

I was very excited when hearing the information, and asked Yu Eryang to invite her neighbor together with the meteorite to come over to have a look. The neighbor is named Yu Mai, over 40 years old, and always have a smile before speaking. I thought the smiling person should be easy to negotiate, but the price she asked for was astonishing. The meteorite is just like Yu Eryang described earlier, with complete fusion crust and partially stained with the blue paint. To collect a complete crasher together with the hit object possessing the impact crater on it is always one of my dreams, but in front of me are an outrageously priced meteorite and the steel roof belong to different families. It seems impossible to get them all at the same time. I reluctantly handed over the meteorite back to Yu Mai, and began to think of a plan to realize my dream.

Above is the meteorite and the cratered steel roof I purchased from Yu Mai and Yu Eryang separately

I talked to Yu Eryang first, telling her I have the interest to purchase the steel roof, and need her to hire a local worker to cut off the cratered area. As we already made a deal for the meteorite fragments and the broken pottery tile, Yu Eryang agreed with my offer straightly. After 15 minutes, a workman came, he tried to use big sized scissors to cut the steel roof at first, but the steel is too thick. He then changed an electric blade saw but nearly hurt himself when cutting the final edge. He was pulling the saw too fast, and the grinding blade was broken, and then the entire machine slipped out of his hand and stirred his cloth. Finally, I got the cut-off steel roof in my hands, but all of the people standing around were frightened by the episode of the worker’s dangerous handling process. The impression on the steel roof can be fitted very well with Yu Mai’s meteorite, however, Yu Mai watched all of the roof cutting processes and knowing that I have the inclination to purchase a set of the meteorite and the roof, her price was no way coming lower down. After a hard time of negotiation, I paid an unbelievable amount of money for the crasher meteorite to fulfill my dream. When packing my belongings and preparing to leave, Yu Eryang told me that one of her relatives who lives in Manzhuang village, about 4km SE, also has a meteorite that landed on his steel roof. If I want to have a look, she can call her relative to bring the meteorite here.

Above is video taken when cutting the steel roof

30 minutes later, an old man at the age of 60s walked into the yard. His name is Yan Yingjiao, and is the relative that Yu Eryang mentioned about. He opened a small pack, then 8 or 9 meteorites totaling 30 grams were uncovered. The biggest one is a typical button-shaped oriented piece, weighing 10.3g with distinct blue paint stains on the edge, and is just the one that landed on the steel roof. Yan Yingjiao told me all of his meteorites were found in or around his house, and from the size and number of his meteorites, I realized at the same time that his house is probably located at the real starting edge of the strewn field. I asked his house location, and then he showed me the exact place on my mobile phone map. During the night of the meteorite shower, Yan Yingjiao also heard a loud noise like an extreme low-altitude aircraft, and then found the blue steel roof covering his yard was leaking when raining. When he climbed up and checked the roof, he found a small crater on the roof and the 10.3g meteorite lying about a half meter away. Although I have spent a huge amount of money on the 27g crasher piece, I still cannot resist this 10.3 small oriented crasher. We discussed the price for about 10 minutes and made the deal a great endeavor. Then I told Yan Yingjiao I can pay the additional money for him if he wants to repair his roof and cut off the crater place for me. He agreed with no hesitation, and we appointed to meet on the next morning at his home to complete the roof cutting.

Above is pictures of the meteorite Yan Yingjiao sold to me

June 10th about 8:30 am I arrived at Yan Yingjiao’s home. He borrowed an electric saw and climbed on the steel roof to do the cutting. With the working noise ringing out, a group of the villagers gathered outside the yard, and most of them were holding the meteorites they found around the areas. Those meteorites are all in the smaller sizes, ranging from 0.1g to 16g. Among those meteorites, a 15.8g individual grabbed my eyes. It is also an oriented piece but chipped a little bit on the edge and with two areas on the front surface covered with unknown white dirt stains. The holder of the meteorite is a handsome young man over 20 years old. I asked his name and where he found the meteorite, also if the meteorite hit anything around. He told me his name is Yan Wenhan, and the meteorite hit the backside eaves of his house, very close to the cowshed of his home. Then I asked him if he can lead me to his home and have a look regarding the impact roof, and he agreed friendly at the same time.

Above is video taken when cutting the steel roof at Yan Yingjiao’s home

Above is picture of the cratered steel roof and the meteorite in its original position

After 15 minutes, Yan Yingjiao finished the cutting work and handed the cratered roof to me. The 10.3g meteorite can insert into the impress and fit very appropriate. I never imagined that I could have the chances to acquire 2 complete crashers with the paired impression roof pieces together, but it came true within 20 hours. I packed the meteorite and the roof piece carefully, I followed Yan Wenhan to his home. It is a typical local courtyard, with the house towards the south and a cowshed connecting the house on the east side. The meteorite just landed on the connecting area which was covered with asbestos tiles, and since the asbestos tile is more fragile than those steel roofs, the size of the impact area is bigger than the meteorite size, and the edge was chipped in an irregular shape. Yan Wenhan is a frank young man, and we made a good deal after chatting for only 5 minutes. I located the co-ordinates, and the cratered asbestos tile was cut off for me.

Above is video taken when cutting the asbestos roof at Yan Wenhan’s home

Above are pictures of the cratered asbestos roof and the meteorite in its original position

When I packed up the 15.8g meteorite and the paired roof piece there are no more than 3 hours until my flight will take off. I left the strewn field unwillingly and then landed in Beijing airport at 1 am June 11th. 7 hours later, I sat in the office and started my routine daily work, but my mind was still at the meteorite falling place. I opened the Google earth occasionally to rebuild the meteorite flying trajectory, and hoping to visit the strewn field again during my next vacation. On Sept 2th, Professor Hsu Weibiao in PMO sent me a message that the official name of the meteorite had been approved. The meteorite named after a local village’s name—Mangui, classified as an L6 chondrite, and the shock stage is S5.

Above is a local map which shows each of the villages mentioned in this article.

Above is the video regarding the animals in the meteorite shower locality

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