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Hey Lost City Meteorite, Smile! You’re on Camera.

After 600 hours of work, the search for additional pieces of the Lost City meteorite was called off. Four fragments had been recovered with a total weight of 17 kg. And that’s where the story both ends and begins.

In 1962, an array of 16 cameras of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Meteorite Photography and Recovery Project, also known as the Prairie Network were distributed across seven states with a grant funded by NASA. The cameras were placed in small buildings that resembled a child’s playhouse. A small, brick, cube-like structure with a roof containing five flat panels.

Two groups of scientists were on standby should a meteorite’s fall be captured by one or more cameras. First, the physicists would calculate the potential landing site, and then the biochemists would deal with terrestrial contamination issues upon location of the cosmic visitor. At 8:14pm on January 3, 1970, just such an event occurred.

For nine seconds, a fireball as bright as the moon streaked across the cold evening sky of northeastern Oklahoma. A sonic boom followed adding to the show. Four of the 16 Prairie Network cameras also witnessed the fall, and have the pictures to prove it.

Information extracted from the camera network photographs captured the fall of Lost City from 86km above the earth down to 19km. And slowing from 14.2km per second to 3.5km per second. Just those two pieces of information provide wonderful insights into what it might be like to ride on a meteor as it turns into a meteorite.

The fall was pinpointed as a location about 70k east of Tulsa near a little town named Lost City. Complicating the recovery was the 20cm of new snow that fell right after the fall. Fragmentation was observed in the images occurring in the final 1.5 seconds of visibility. Three distinct light trails were identified, and that information was then used to predict additional landing sites.

The first of the four recovered stones was a 9.83kg rock located just a few days later only 800 meters from its predicted landing site. Sadly, the excitement over the potential of discovering organic material on or in the fresh stone was seriously compromised by a dog that found the dark rock earlier and claimed it by lifting a leg.

A week later, a second fragment of 272 grams was recovered, and on February 3rd a third stone of 6.6kg was recovered. That third specimen was only discovered because it also had an eye and ear witness who could point the search team in the right direction.

The forth and final fragment of 640 grams was recovered on May 4th, a full four months after the fall. The official search was formally ended on December 6, 1970.

Three of the four fragments fit together, and there are strong indications that more fragments are still out there to be found including some large ones.

Of course the H5 chondrite Lost City was on my shortlist of stones to add to my collection. It took years of building relationships and material access so when the meteorite collecting stars lined up, I asked for a complete slice of Lost City as payment for negotiating a large institutional meteorite trade And that’s another story for another time.

Until next time….

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