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Texas meteorite hunters turn up possible remnants of Sunday's fireball

Meteorite hunters from the University of North Texas (UNT) have scooped up what may be two pieces of the object that lit up the skies over Austin on Sunday. Ronald DiIulio, director of UNT's planetarium and astronomy lab, and Preston Starr, the university's observatory manager, told news outlets that they found two pecan-size fragments yesterday near the town of West, about 20 miles north of Waco.

"The pieces that we found have beautiful ablation crust," DiIulio told the Associated Press, referring to the fusion crust formed by the extreme temperatures of atmospheric entry. "And it's black like charcoal. Underneath this crust the color of the rock is concrete like gray." (A phone call to DiIulio's office was not immediately returned.)

DiIulio and Starr relied on eyewitness accounts, finally tracking down the two possible meteorites after receiving a tip from a local farmer in West and some guidance from the sheriffs there, according to the Dallas Morning News. If the find proves to be genuine, there may be many more fragments nearby—when a dramatic fireball lit up the Canadian skies in November, the search team's meteorite count shot up to the dozens in a matter of days after spotting the first remnant.

The Texas fireball, which was caught on video by a television news cameraman filming Sunday's Austin marathon, was initially suspected of having resulted from falling debris from last week's satellite collision over Siberia. That theory was later discounted, but a conclusive determination of the fireball's origin may not come until any found fragments can be confirmed and analyzed.

Whatever the analytical tests reveal, one thing is certain: between the eyewitness assists and the unsuspecting videography, the Texas meteorite hunt is just another example of the burgeoning field of astronomy by crowdsourcing.

Portrait of Ronald DiIulio courtesy of the University of North Texas

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