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'Very unlikely' meteorite will be found on NZ soil

Published: 5:59AM Tuesday April 03, 2012 Source: ONE News

Astronomers say it is very unlikely parts of an apparent meteorite will be found in New Zealand after the object flashed across the twilight sky last night.

Eye witnesses from Northland to Christchurch spotted what is believed to be a meteor darting across the sky just before 6.30pm.
Police up and down the country were inundated with calls from people describing a fireball that flashed green and orange, followed by a spiral trail.

A sonic boom was reported in the South Island.

Astronomers are set to look into whether the meteor has landed and become a meteorite.

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Auckland's Astronomical Society president Grant Christie told TV ONE's Breakfast only nine verified pieces of meteorite have ever been found in New Zealand.

"It's not a good place to look for meteorite parts. Little bits of it conceivably could survive and have landed, but most likely they landed in the sea. So it's very unlikely that anything came down," Christie said.

He said he has seen a report by one person that several minutes after seeing the object they heard a boom.

"And that's probably a sonic boom. Or it could be a detonation - what's called a terminal explosion of the thing as it blew itself to bits."

Christie said meteors appear every night but one as bright as the object seen last night is reported probably every year or so.

He said an object that bright could be about the size of a basketball, and while it might look close, is "many tens of kilometres away, sometimes several hundred kilometres away" when people see it in the sky.

Christie said the heat is very intense as the object hits the atmosphere, travelling at something like 30 kilometres a second, and starting to burn up at about 80 kilometres above Earth.

"As it burns up it leaves a debris trail behind which is what people saw shining in the twilight sky."

Astronomer John Field of the Carter Observatory told ONE News that by tracking the orbits of meteors, astronomers can work out where they came from to give an idea of what their parent body was.

"If they actually fall down to earth and become a meteorite and people recover it, we can analyse to work out where they came in the solar system."

Meteors could be about four billion years old, Field said.