Atlin man reveals details of meteorite discovery

Posted: Monday, June 12, 2000

WHITEHORSE, Yukon Territory (AP) -- A British Columbia man wasn't looking for a meteorite as he was driving across a frozen lake last January, but when he saw encrusted fragments on the ice, he knew immediately what they were.

The fragments found by Jim Brook of Atlin turned out to be pieces of carbonaceous chondrite, meteorites with pieces of organic material in them. The rare, carbon-rich type of meteor is expected to give scientists insights into the origins of life, according to the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Brook was driving on the Taku Arm of Tagish Lake on Jan. 25, one week after a fireball lit up the skies over the Canadian territories and Southeast Alaska. The fireball had jolted people out of their beds in Carcross before sunrise on Jan. 18 and produced a dramatic light show visible as far south as Juneau. The explosion left a trail of vapor and smoke that lingered for at least 45 minutes.

At a press conference in Calgary two weeks ago, Brook revealed himself as the meteorite finder who had asked to remain anonymous.

''The initial find was in my truck, driving down the lake,'' he told the Whitehorse Star.

On the day of the discovery, Brook said, driving conditions on the lake were perfect because no snow had fallen for a week.

Brook said he was traveling to and from his home via the lake when he spotted pieces of meteorite on the ice.

''It was obvious right away,'' he said, because of the black crust on the chunks.

Brook, who has experience in geology, stopped and nearly made a mistake.

''I almost picked it up,'' he said. Instead, he went back to his truck, grabbed a plastic bag and picked the fragments up without touching them. When he got home, he froze the fragments.

He returned the next day with more plastic bags and picked up all the fragments he could find -- three or four more.

''I've handled some samples in the past and keeping them sterile is important,'' Brook said. ''I knew just enough to be aware of the value of keeping them clean.''

A week after discovering the pieces, Brook took them to Whitehorse and the local office of the Geological Survey of Canada. From there, Brook got in touch with meteor scientist Peter Brown of the University of Western Ontario. Pieces were then sent to the NASA in Houston.

Brook said he had several reasons for not revealing himself or the location of the meteor chunks.

He said the location was too close to his home and since he planned to be away frequently, he did not want people snooping around. He also wanted to look for more fragments.

''I wanted a chance to go back and recover more without a lot of interference,'' he said.

Scientists in April searched for more fragments. About 500 were recovered, but many were not after going through the lake ice and sinking to the bottom.

Other fragments turned to mush.

Michael Zolensky, a NASA cosmic mineralogist, said in February the meteorite contained water, amino acids, hydrocarbon, gases and diamonds. Scientists expect the meteorite will teach them more about how the planets and the sun were formed.

Of all the meteorites that strike Earth, only about 2 percent are carbonaceous chondrites, which scientists think are born from asteroids.

Zolensky said the pieces were in near-perfect condition, the first time NASA had ever received uncontaminated samples, which usually reach the lab after being handled by people, thawed out, or otherwise soiled, compromising their value.

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