Thursday, April 29, 2010

Meteorite Men -- and Boys!

Have you ever seen the show "Meteorite Men" on the Science Channel? If you haven't, you must! A and R found it one day while channel surfing, and we've been hooked ever since. Of course, R was already obsessed with (1) anything to do with space and (2) rocks, so it wasn't too much of a surprise that he'd like the show, but I find myself watching it (and DVRing it) when R is in bed because it's just so interesting and entertaining.

It follows these two very funny guys, Geoff and Steve, as they hunt for meteorites in different locations around the U.S. (from what I've seen so far). They talk about their equipment and the science of it all, but mostly it's just the two of them cracking jokes and teasing each other as they hunt, getting frustrated when they don't find anything, and getting excited when they do. My favorite episode so far was when they hunted for three days without finding anything and then on their drive back, they spotted a whole mess of meteorites just laying on the dirt road! Crazy!

This show has had quite an impact on our little family. R hunts for meteorites wherever he goes. He's planning to make a meteorite hunting stick (walking stick with a big magnet attached to the bottom), similar to the ones Geoff and Steve use on the show. (R actually requested that we get him a pick axe like theirs, but we figured a 6-year-old doesn't need a pick axe quite yet. Maybe next year.)

I think I mentioned a little while ago that R thought he found a meteorite on the street. He and I were walking home from school one day, and he crouched down, picked up a rock, and insisted it was a meteorite. I laughed it off, but when we got home, R discovered the rock was magnetic. It's a little rusty, so we know there's iron in it. R and A researched how to identify meteorites online, and they tried a scratch test by scratching the rock on a porcelain tile. It passed. (I can't remember what a meteorite does in the scratch test, but this rock did whatever a meteorite is supposed to do.) In the meantime, R spotted a second rock like the first one in the same location on the street. Then, A ordered a kit that tests for the presence of nickel because meteorites have both iron and nickel in them. And, the nickel test was positive for both rocks! A and R have also dug out the microscope and examined their specimens. And, they've compared R's finds to some real meteorites that we've bought.

R's "meteorites"

Now, we know that the likelihood that these two rocks are meteorites is pretty darn low. I mean, they were just laying on the side of a paved street. It was after our huge, colossal rainstorms and flooding, so maybe there's a slight chance these were unearthed and swept down the street from somewhere else. But, whatever -- R was excited and started telling all his friends. And, because his class was doing a science unit on magnets, R's teacher let him bring the "meteorites" into school.

The next thing I knew, most of the boys in R's class were talking and writing about meteorites, and A even took a few of them on a meteorite hunt on our street. Other parents keep coming up to me and telling me how their kid is constantly looking for meteorites. So cool!

On R's birthday, we took him to the Harvard Museum of Natural History to see the museum's curator, who we talked to about meteorites during the Earth Rocks festival they hosted a few weeks ago.

R at the Earth Rocks festival at HMNH
(Photograph by Patrick Rogers

The curator was very nice and was impressed by our somewhat scientific approach (e.g., using a real meteorite as the control specimen), but he said it was inconclusive. I think he didn't want to disappoint R too much, but he said that it was pretty unlikely that R's rocks were meteorites. He was also intrigued, however, that our nickel tests had come out positive. Either way, R seemed fine about it, and his "meteorites" are now on display with all our other gems and minerals and meteorites in our living room.

So, we're living the Meteorite Boys life here. And, A and R are insisting that our next family vacation has to be to Arizona or Nevada or some other barren, desert land where they can hunt for meteorites.

We'll see, boys.

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