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November 25, 2008

10 Tonne Meteor hits Western Canada

CANADA - The meteor that lit up the skies across Alberta and Saskatchewan last week was a monster — according to scientists — with a mass of 10 tonnes and packing a punch equivalent to 300 tonnes of TNT.

And because it was so big, the burning rock may have scattered football-sized chunks of itself across 24 square kilometers near the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, says researchers at the University of Calgary.

Thousands of people observed last Thursday's meteor, and in some cases obtained video recordings of it, more details are emerging every day about its trajectory and where pieces of it might have landed. Researchers are continuing to pinpoint the area where meteorite pieces are most likely to have fallen.

It first appeared about 80 kilometers above and just east of the city of Lloydminster Canada. From there, it traveled south-southeast toward the Battle River Valley before "fragmenting spectacularly" in a series of explosions, just after 6:26 p.m. CT, University of Calgary researchers said.

U of C researcher Alan Hildebrand estimates that hundreds of meteorites larger than 50 grams could have landed since the rock was large and was moving relatively slowly — roughly 14 kilometers per second when it entered the atmosphere, compared to a more typical meteor speed of 20 kilometers per second.

The meteor came down at a steep angle — about 60 degrees from the horizontal — and flared up for about five seconds.

Time is of the essence because snow and other elements could bury or contaminate the pieces. Meteorites are often black, heavier than normal rocks and magnetic and often contain platinum or other valuable metals.

Under Canadian law, meteorites belong to the owner of the property they land on.

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