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THE HUNT FOR A NEW HAMPSHIRE METEORITE
THE HUNT FOR A NEW HAMPSHIRE METEORITE
by Gary K. Foote
Photos by CJ Foote
February 21, 2007

On February 15, 2007 a landowner in western New Hampshire awoke to find a hole had been punched thru the ice of her farm pond overnight. 2 feet of snow had also fallen that night. Over the next few hours the hole grew to a diameter of about 3 feet before it began to ice back over.

On February 20th I received word of this event and made contact with the landowner, arranging to visit the following day to investigate. We brought along a long thin probe, some magnets, an ice chisel and a GPS. We had hopes of finding some evidence of a meteorite under the frozen surface.

Upon arrival we first photographed and measured the hole and the 'splash' pattern that was still evident on the pond's surface. See picture below;

The splash pattern measured 58 feet along its longest axis. The iced over hole itself measured 39 inches. This iced over hole was obvious once we scraped off the thin layer of snow, exposing a circular area that was significantly darker than the surrounding ice. Bubbles of trapped air were visible in the dark ice as well as more numerous smaller bubbles surrounding the area. See picture below;

We took a moment to get an exact location using a GPS;

We also scraped the thin layer of snow from two of the most evident splashes, one about 15 feet from the dark center and the second a good 50 feet away. The closest measured about 12 inches across;

The farther one was more elongated than the nearer one and measured about 12 inches across at its widest and 2-3 feet long overall. This shape seemed concurrent with a lower, longer trajectory than the closer splash mark. Interestingly we noted that the splash marks didn't show the dark aspect of the central area, so it was apparent that no penetration had occurred at these spots. The only penetration of the ice had occurred at the central, dark area of the ice.

Next we began opening the ice at the central dark region. There were two layers of ice we had to chip through. The upper layer was about 8 inches thick and the lower layer was only six inches thick. In between layers was about 3-4 inches of unfrozen water. I've never seen a double layer of ice like this before. Interesting...

Once my arms got tired CJ took over the chipping to give me a break. Finally we had the whole area cleared of both layers of ice.

Next we dropped a strong magnet on a cable into the hole and gently dragged the entire reachable bottom. At the end of this dragging we found some very small particles of material had been picked up by the magnet. In the picture below I am examining these particles. One was apparent on the face of the magnet while the rest had accumulated in the edge of the magnet where it joined its central region. [The magnet we used was from an old speaker, so had some architecture that is not normal to your average magnet]

Next we used a two meter long magnesium pole to probe the entire reachable bottom, which was covered in about 3-6 inches of mud beneath which was a layer of what I assume was clay. The probe passed thru the mud easily and continued at least an inch or two into the clay before experiencing enough resistance to begin to flex. At no time did I feel anything other than mud and clay. We also took core samples of the muddy bottom from a number of angles around the hole.

Below is a picture of the upper layer of ice. It is free of organic materials and shows clear air bubbles flowing up thru the ice, frozen as long tubes of air as they rose thru the rapidly freezing water.

Next is a closeup of the organics trapped in the lower layer of ice. You can see globs of algae within which are tadpole eggs. We also brought up a live and wiggling tadpole. Rather a surprise find in such cold water. This lower layer of ice displayed none of the rising air bubbles noted in the upper layer.

We put a single particle from the magnet under a stereoscopic microscope to see what we could see. This particle was embedded in some mud that clung to the magnet, but by itself is attracted to magnets. It could possibly be an olivine particle/crumb, but there is no apparent iron in its 'matrix'.

The picture below is of the particle with a centimeter cube for scale. The depth of field and focus are far from perfect in the following images, but it is the best we could do with a jury rigged setup.

The image below is clickable for a closer look;

The image below is clickable for a closer look;

The image below is clickable for a closer look;

Shown in backlight the grain is translucent;

Shown in frontlight it is quite reflective but you can still see the translucent areas near the edges;

Shown in backlight the grain is translucent;

The jury is still out as far as I'm concerned. There may or may not be a meteorite buried in the muddy bottom of the pond. It will be spring before we can get back to dredge for any specimens. Stay tuned!

Here are some comments by some learned people about the possibilities here;

I don't want to throw cold water on this possibility (plenty of that already), but every winter, there's one or more "did a meteorite land in a pond/lake" stories that pop up on the List. There was a long-lasting thread back in Jan., 2001, about a lake in Finland (where, incidentally, there are many "meteorite in a lake/pond" stories, none of which ever panned out with a rock).

There are so many things that can make a hole in an icy pond. The ice is obviously quite thick now. How thick was it when the hole appeared? The fact that the hole is in the "center" (more or less) is always a suspicious piece of data. Lakes and ponds freeze from the shallow shore to the deep center, in that order. The center (or the deepest spot) is always the last place to freeze and the ice is always thinnest there.

This creates a mental trap for the unwary pond crosser, whether they be human or critter. You test the ice near the edge, as you go out on it and again as you move away from shore. It is obviously strong enough to drive a car on; you lose caution and proceed on your merry way. Pond crossers always go over the center of the pond because it's the shortest distance and saving distance is the purpose of the exercise.

Particularly when the temperature drop is recent and not long-term, you will find lakes and ponds with thick stampable ice over the shallow margins (and farm ponds tend to have broad shallows) while in the center sits a universal invitation to a sudden thermal excursion.

The owner's assertion of "no tracks" has to be weighed against the time that may have elapsed, the wind drift factor, the chance of snow since the incident, and the likelihood of quick wet prancing (and very annoyed) feet leaving prints.

No hunt for a space rock is ever wasted, though. Alan Hildebrand, of the MIAC - Prairie Meteorite Search project in Canada, with very reasonable assumptions, estimates that ~1.4 meteorites >100 g mass occur in each km2 (or about 4.5 meteorites >10 g mass). That's about one 100+ gm meteorite for every 175 acres, or one 10 gm every 56 acres. Read: http://miac.uqac.ca/MIAC/pmsearch.htm

I'm sure that your "particles" contain meteoritic material; every open body of water in the world collects cosmic dust! In fact, Jerry Flaherty posted a story about kids collecting meteor "dust" on the night of major meteor showers using a big flat pan of water. You can also find cosmic "stuff" in the muck that lines the bottom of your gutters. Scrape out your gutters, put the gunk in a plastic bucket, dilute with water, drag a supermagnet through it, and Voila! Star Dust.

There's a long list of natural occurances that can punch holes in new-iced ponds. But one of them is... Meteorite! My problem is that I can't find any rendition of a meteorite having been found that way.

Sterling K. Webb

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Like a clod, I meant to say what a good page and description of the "chase" it was and forgot to. By the time I finished reading it, my feet were cold and I felt a sudden desire for hot cocoa.

Your weather is colder than my weather. And my observations are probably more true of a winter that bounces back and forth over the freezing line. We haven't been "subzero" (F) for years.

Maybe the dual ice layer is the result of two freezes, an earlier one that never melted fully and a later one that couldn't close the gap. The Earth gets about 400,000 tons of Interplanetary Dust Particles per year: "The earth's surface is constantly being rained upon by interplanetary dust particles (IDP's), from a few to several hundred micrometers in diameter. The mass distribution of this dust flux peaks at around 200µm (Love and Brownlee, 1993). This dust is thought to be derived from collisions of asteroidal material and from comets (e.g. Kortenkamp and Dermott, 1998). The majority of IDPs are compositionally similar to chondritic meteorites (Jessberger et al, 2001), and quite distinct from crustal rocks on earth."

The exact amount of nickel in cosmic dust bunnies is the basis of an argument. Earlier high estimates of how much dust was incoming were because the nickel content was thought to be higher than it turned out to be. But, regardless of the amount, you'll find nickel in cosmic dust. Just think of it as ground up meteorites, all kinds together.

Sterling K. Webb

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Sterling,

Interesting that you should mention Finland and that no meteorite have been found that way. Bjurböle is a name that pops up whenever I hear about mysterious holes in ice. http://www.somerikko.net/old/geo/met/mbjurb_e.htm

But I agree, this one doesn't really sounds like a meteorite and is probably caused some other way. The story about the hole getting bigger the first day is one part of it. There should also have been chunks of ice from the original surface but the central hole looked like it was filled by clear ice. The elongated air bubbles are also common when the ice is freezing over.

We had a number of similar appearances of holes in ice 5-10 years ago but none yielded any meteorites.

... but I hope I'm wrong.

Good hunt!
Göran

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Gary,

I've been thinking of it for a while. The comments someone made about outflowing water making the pattern mimicking a splash sounded quite reasonable. Once I was ice fishing on a small lake (300m diameter) with half a meter thick ice. When we drilled the ice we found out that the lake was under pressure, water was thrown 20-30 cm up from the ice surface and we had to use poles to get the lures down against the current. After an hour the ice was covered with a 15 cm deep water surface in the thick snow cover. Then there was a big bang like a cannon. The ice across the lake had split.

My guess is that the small lake is fed by ground water and drained through a small surface ditch. The drainage was frozen but there were still coming more water and that lifted the ice and built up the pressure. Your description of the small pond sounded a bit like that, a spring fed pond. Maybe the pressure was building up and finally the water found a way through the ice. The moving water melted the hole by bringing up warmer bottom water. Did you say that there was two layers of ice on the pond?

Goran

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Hello Gary,

In my opinion, it's certainly a meteorite - no other possibility would explain the large hole or splash pattern. I wouldn't give up hope because of a lack of mud - take note of the fact that that the water when Bjurbole fell was only ~1 1/2 feet deep - you're dealing with 7!  If anything, that large splash pattern alone would point towards a very fast-moving falling object such as a meteorite, and seeing as the Bjurbole stones buried themselves so very deeply (7 meters into the mud = 21 feet - you're going to need a long probing pole......), and you're probably not going to get this one without diving......

Regards,
Jason

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Great effort Gary! You have to go look if you're going to find them. : )

I've lived in lake country here in Michigan for most of my life, grew up here.The county I'm in has 400+ lakes, not including ponds! I lived on a lake almost all of my life and and I've been an ice fisherman virtually all that time. I've noticed these holes as long as I can remember. Perhaps I'm wrong, but here's my proposed scenario for your meteorite hole suspect.

Pond freezes, small amount of snow accumulates, there's a spot above the spring that's not freezing as fast and may be open. Muskrats and mink may also use this as a spot to get air and feed, sometimes keeping a hole open late into winter. This doesn't appear to be the case though as there was not an abundance of vegetation on the ice, as would be if muskrats were feeding there. Anyway, the ice thickens to several inches, it warms up a bit, then snow starts to melt. This leaves a layer of water on top of the ice. At the same time, the hole from the spring will grow a little from the snow melt that is flowing into the pond through the hole. This leaves a spider web like pattern on the ice. Now, just before the two feet of snow falls, the temperature drops, creating a layer of ice on the surface of the melted snow water that's on the already frozen lake surface. Two feet of snow falls and blankets the pond, insulating the ice from a deeper freeze. You will have a thin layer of ice, perhaps a few inches, then a layer of liquid water, then another layer of usually thicker ice, then the pond. The spider web like pattern that was a wet trench, catches snow that gets slushy, thereby catching more snow, until you actually have a bump that may look like a splash because it is irregular, follow me?

VOILA! I've observed this many times.

Cheers,
Larry

P.S. A freshwater spring can move around over a period of years, or a new one may pop and last a while and redirect it's self back to the main one, that's why she thought the spring was in a different location.

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Look like, act like might very well be. Good enough to pass my limited knowledge standards. As Sterliing had written, I did make a, what I deemed successful, "gathering" of meteoric particles in a simple experiment suggested by a PBS astronomer "Jack Horkhiemer"[spelling?] back in the eighties. SOOO again bodies of water bottoms, are a treasure trove of meteoric material. Unfortunately it's presence in that environment breaks any largeish specimens down into what you drew from the pond in short order. I'm no expert, and I won't try to account for the "mystery hole in the ice" but unless and until divers decend to explore for Large material I'll make the assumption that what you found is what you'd expect to find in most pond and lake and ocean bottoms for that matter worldwide.

Barringer spent a small fortune at the crater that bears his name trying to find the "pot of gold". You know Vaporized! But several feet of water would supply the braking power to slow and preserve anything small enough to be free falling. At 70 y.o. I still dream about scuba diving with H2O proof metal detector the ponds in and around Plymouth Ma, where I live. But it's only a dream right now though I've snorkled some bottoms in recent years eyeballin for suspect items. Dreams are a great source of adventure inspiring activity! Keep up good work. Just my two cents.

Jerry Flaherty

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