Space race! Meteorites hit Maine, museum offers $25K reward

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PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Somewhere in a remote stretch of forest near Maine’s border with Canada, rocks from space crashed to Earth and may be scattered across the ground — just waiting to be picked up.

If you’re the first person to find a big one, a museum says it’ll pay out a $25,000 reward.

The unusually bright fireball could be seen in broad daylight around noon Saturday, said Darryl Pitt, chair of the meteorite division at the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel.

NASA says four radar sweeps detected “signatures consistent with falling meteorites seen at the time and location reported by eyewitnesses,” and people also heard sonic booms. It’s the first time radar spotted a meteorite fall in Maine, the space agency said.

The Maine Mineral and Gem Museum wants to add to its collection, which includes moon and Mars rocks, Pitt said, so the first meteorite hunters to deliver a 1-kilogram (2.2-pound) specimen will claim the $25,000 prize. That could be about the size of a softball.

“With more people having an awareness, the more people will look — and the greater the likelihood of a recovery,” Pitt said Wednesday.

Pitt said that because the descent was spotted by radar, he’s confident meteorites can be found on the ground.

Still, there’s no guarantee there are any meteorites big enough to claim the payout.

NASA said on its website that the “meteorite masses calculated from the radar signatures range from 1.59g (0.004 pounds) to 322g (0.7 pounds) although larger masses may have fallen.”

The meteorites likely impacted across a swath of ground spanning from the town of Waite, Maine, to Canoose, New Brunswick. According to NASA, the largest specimens will be strewn at the west end of the debris field, closest to Waite — about a 3 1/2 hour drive from Portland.

Locating a softball-sized space rock in the wilderness may be similar to finding a needle in a haystack: Pitt said the estimated area where the meteorites hit is about a mile wide (1.6 km) and stretches for 10-12 miles (16-19 km), all the way into Canada.

The museum is asking aspiring meteorite hunters to brush up on what meteorites look like before searching, so they know what they’re looking for, and avoid private property unless they have permission.

The museum has an extensive collection of specimens, including the largest intact Mars rock on Earth.

Pitt said the museum is also looking to purchase any other specimens found by meteorite hunters. He said the specimens “could easily be worth their weight in gold.”

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