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The Fall and Hunt of the “El Sauz” Bolide

On 15 February 2023 at around 5:30 in the afternoon local time a small body entered the earth’s atmosphere above Texas. The American Meteor Society log of the event, 1036-2023 records only nine reports with no video or still photographs. Despite not standing out from the background of the other AMS log records, video capture of the prominent sonic boom, GOES-16 satellite capture, good seismic and great NEXRAD radar data from NOAA all pointed to this event being a good potential rock dropper. To boot this was all on the tail of a fall on the 14th in Italy, and one on the 13th in France, the first three day fall trifecta. Later data analysis from NASA added detail to the bolide event. Placing the asteroids weight at approximately 1000 pounds pre-atmospheric entry weight with an approach speed of around 27,000 miles per hour. The event released an equivalent energy of eight tons of TNT.

Information released on the fall so far has been sparser than on previous recent falls. Piecing together the shots posted to social media of stones in-situ and freshly collected show a nice light grey relatively uniform matrix of what looks to be an ordinary chondrite. I can’t pick out any large chondrules thought there is an overall lack of close up good shots of the material. I would hazard to guess it may be a H5 or H6. So far no release of even a ball parked TKW has come out, nor has there been made a stone count and associated data. Known finders include Robert Ward, Marc Fries, Phil Mani, Sonny Clary and Meredith Howse.

 

Fall Stats

The approximate total known weight so far is 5 Kgs.
Total stones found, I have heard about ten
The type specimen has been submitted to the Monnig Collection at TCU for classification.

 

Q and A with the finders:
Finder: Marc Fries

You work with the NASA Ares program, were meteorites an interest for you prior to working for NASA or something you got interested in afterwards?

Definitely beforehand. I grew up watching Cosmos with Carl Sagan and have been fascinated by planetary science ever since.

How many successful fall hunts does this make for you now?

As far as finding meteorites goes, this is the second one out of about a dozen where I’ve found a meteorite. I haven’t kept either one, though – the first (Cranfield) was broken up and shipped to scientists around the world, and the second remains with the landowner (El Sauz). I look at the success criteria a little differently than just finding meteorites, though. For me a successful hunt is one where meteorites are brought in out of the weather because of radar and other data I disseminate. So in those terms, I’ve had a couple of dozen successful meteorite hunts. My favorites are the falls that wouldn’t have been recovered if it weren’t for radar data.

I know you hunted Cranfield MS, successfully, was this the next one you hunted or did you hunt any of the falls in between? What kind of things factor into which events you choose to hunt?

I hunt every one that I can break away from work long enough to work on. They have the obnoxious habit of occurring while I’m on travel somewhere, so I miss more of them than I can visit.

How long were you in the strewn field before you made your find(s)?

I found a meteorite on the third day of searching. It was in a little clearing and I was searching the area in a grid, and it was a case of searching, searching, searching, grass, dirt, dirt, more grass, and then bam – a meteorite, next to the imprint it made in the ground.

How much did you recover?

The meteorite I found was 1.25 kg and fully fusion crusted. It is a beautiful stone! I left it with the landowner because that was the arrangement we had worked out. My wife and I searched with the agreement that we would shepherd a ~20g piece to satisfy the Meteoritical Society classification requirement, which we did. The 1.25 kg stone will join others found on the property in a museum exhibit in San Antonio some time in the near future.

Any run ins with wildlife while you were out there?

I saw the largest rattlesnake I’ve seen in my life. This guy was as big around as my upper arm and was 6-7’ long, without exaggeration. He didn’t even act scared when we flushed him out of the grass, he seemed more annoyed than anything. He coiled up into a defensive stance, which I’m not going to forget anytime soon. Other than that, we saw a lot of deer, turkeys, and the various exotic game the adjoining ranches had been stocked with.

Any hunches on what the classification will be?

L5? I believe I spotted a chondrule or two otherwise I’d say L6.

Any details about this hunt that made it stand out in your mind vs. other hunts you have been on?

This one was entirely on private land. I usually stick to the public land like roads and such and leave transactions with landowners to others. This was the first time I had to find a way to search on private land or have nothing to search at all.

Not related to this fall, but do you have a favorite meteorite and if so what do you find most appealing about it?

I like any of the weirdos. The ungrouped ones are my favorites, just because they all have stories to tell but are holding them tight. The ungrouped ones have more potential in that way than the other meteorites.

Anything else you want to share with the readers?

This one took more patience and luck than others I’ve been on. It was much more difficult that others in the sense that the landowner I worked with required strict anonymity. That restricted how much I could share, which is not something I like to do. The more we share information about finds and find locations, the more meteorites everyone tends to find. So I didn’t enjoy having to stay quiet but didn’t have an option. I’m looking forward to the next fall where I can get back to hunting on roads and sharing news freely.

 

Q and A with the finders:
Finder: Meredith Howse

So give us a little background; how did you get into meteorites?

I was initially involved on the wholesale side of the fossil industry for about 8 years, and now have had a natural history decor shop for the past 10 years. My favorite part of the business is field work and the hunt. Although I’ve occasionally sold meteorites as decorative pieces, I was never experienced with classifying or recovering them. My connection to the meteorite community has been on more of a social level than professional level for the past 25 years.

How many successful fall hunts does this make for you now?

This was my first real hunt!

What made you decide that this was the fall to hunt?

I was certainly interested in following the development of this fall more than others because I live in the Houston area, so this was a (relatively) close fall with strong data showing high probability of pieces on the ground. I happen to have a 2 week window where I wasn’t traveling for work, so I decided to pack up and go try my luck!

How long were you in the strewn field before you made your find(s)?

I was in the field for 2-3 days with Carl Dietrich, Ashley Humphries, and Mark Lyon. We really needed additional landowner permissions, so we stopped for several days to try and contact other ranch owners. After connecting with a ranch owner and getting permission to hunt their land, Carl and I returned and this piece was recovered on that first morning! So, it was the 4th day of actual field hunting and the 9th day after impact.

How much did you recover?

A single, beautifully intact, full fusion crusted lil 17.27 gm’er with two nice visible metal blebs smiling up at me. As a Native Texan, it made it even better that my first find was here in Texas. What an exuberant feeling, won’t ever forget that!

Any run-ins with wildlife while you were out there?

Do ostriches count?! :) We were warned constantly about rattlesnakes that no longer rattle but we only ever saw one, who luckily had just eaten and was not a threat to us.

Any hunches on what the classification will be?

Not my specialty, but OC, maybe H6 just based on conversations and pictures? Curious to find out.

Not related to this fall, but do you have a favorite meteorite and if so what do you find most appealing about it?

I love Black Beauty and Aguas Zarcas. Both stones hold an enormous amount of scientific value and have high aesthetic value as well.

Anything else you want to share with the readers?

I have to say, I felt a little crazy when first deciding to drive down alone to the Rio Grande Valley and walk around looking for a meteorite, but that hesitation quickly dissipated once I started meeting local landowners and their family members. They were so kind and hospitable and really funny. Everyone we encountered was excited for the fall, eager to help, and super concerned for our safety both from wildlife and any issues stemming from being so close to the Mexican border. I met Carl, Ashley, and Mark out on the side of the road on Day 1 and we ended up having a great time together. I am so glad I went and can’t wait for the next hunt. I definitely caught the meteorite fever!

 


Micro Shot of a crusted fragment Photo Credit Domyan

 


Matrix shot of a tiny fragment

 


Capture of the Seismic Data Related to this event

 


Oscilloscope of the sonic boom

 


Meredith holding her find

 


Whole stone close up

 


Stone in-situ
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