Meteorite on tour here before heading overseas

University of Otago geologist Dr Marshall Palmer holds a meteorite that was recently collected...
University of Otago geologist Dr Marshall Palmer holds a meteorite that was recently collected near Tekapo. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
It came from the sky, crashed near Lake Tekapo and will soon make its trip around the world.

But before that happens, the University of Otago geology department wants to show the meteorite off in Dunedin.

University geologist Dr Marshall Palmer gave a public talk at the Tūhura Otago Museum Hutton Theatre yesterday about the discovery of the meteorite.

He was part of a group of more than 20 people in Lake Tekapo that set out on March 21 to find the meteorite after a fireball was seen racing across the sky over North Otago and South Canterbury about 9pm on March 13.

It is the first meteorite discovered in New Zealand in more than 20 years.

Dr Palmer said the response to the discovery had been "astonishing".

"The initial excitement is starting to fade away, but we're now working through the next steps.

"It’s the size of an apple. We want to be careful with it — a lot of people are trying to figure out what to do with it," he said.

This could include analysis of the meteorite.

"We are looking o at getting a 3D model of the meteorite that will allow us to calculate its density.

"We can then decide where to cut it ... we will be sending small portions of it overseas to get dating of it done."

Meteorites could be "older than Earth", he said.

"It’s a piece of rock from space ... they contain parts of the Solar System that were around before the Sun was formed. It’s about learning our place in the universe.

"They're one of our only opportunities to learn about what goes on beyond our world."

There had been a team working together for the past two years in the hope of finding such a meteorite, he said.

"We discovered there was a global meteor camera network, and it grew from there.

"The wider public got interested, and it led to schools and the general public setting up cameras."

Among the project leaders was Prof James Scott of the geology department, who had initially been researching Martian meteorites.

Dennis Behan saw the fireball while he was sitting in his spa in Queenstown.

"It looked like it was coming over the horizon— it turned out it was near Lake Tekapo, which was about 170km from our house.

"I called Prof James Scott straight away—it’s pretty cool. These things don't happen every day."

But Dr Palmer hopes with the new technology, meteorite sightings and captures could occur more frequently.

"This is the starting point. If we get another event like that, we could easily find another one."