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It’s open season!

Fabien Kuntz, Marie Gerbet and Pierre-Marie Pelé relax at a milestone outside the village of Beni M’hira, Tunisia.
Credit: Pierre-Marie Pelé
Fabien Kuntz, Marie Gerbet, Pierre-Marie Pelé
It’s open season!

Astronomy and hunting have much in common. We’ve all heard of eclipse chasers and aurora hunters. The Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium is also interested in hunting… meteorites! The institution recently acquired nine fragments of Beni M’hira from a trio of French huntsmen.

A little known pursuit

Meteorite hunters scour the Earth’s deserts with great passion. Deserts are ideal places for stalking meteorites; thanks to the dryness, rocks from space can endure unspoiled for years. In 2012 and 2013, Fabien Kuntz, Marie Gerbet and Pierre-Marie Pelé journeyed to the Beni M’hira region of Tunisia, where meteorites had fallen eleven years earlier. They wagered that fragments of the fall remained strewn on the ground.

Broken telephone

Though they knew the approximate coordinates of a dozen meteorites recovered in 2001, the three hunters returned from their first prospecting excursion empty-handed. However, after speaking with locals, they were soon put on the right track. They met an elderly shepherd who had a fragment of the Beni M’hira meteorite that landed near his shelter: the exact prospecting area had been established at last!

Sure-footed, eagle-eyed

The hunters combed the target zone armed with sturdy boots, a GPS, a magnetic rod, a camera and lots of water. Shadows cast by rocks, shrubs, the terrain, heat and fatigue all conspired against them. They searched the same area over and over again hoping to find celestial bounty. On good days, their discoveries were so exhilarating they didn’t want to stop.

A good harvest

After five prospecting sorties, the trio returned from Beni M’hira with close to 200 meteorite fragments weighing a total of 12.5 kg. They also brought back many stories to tell. Learn about them by visiting On the Trail of Beni M’hira, the Planetarium’s temporary exhibit that opens June 27, 2015.

Rocks worth their weight in gold

There are roughly 200 professional meteorite hunters around the world who finance their expeditions through the sale of their yield. Depending on rarity, meteorites sell for between $0.40 and $1,000 per gram. In the case of Beni M’hira, an ordinary chondrite, fragments are valued at $2 to $3 a gram.

Nine Beni M’hira meteorite fragments have been added to the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium meteorite collection, which numbers a total of 350 pieces. It is the largest public collection in Québec.

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