Meteorite expert shares knowledge with teachers

As a meteorite rocketed across the sky in Alberta just over a year ago, associate professor Christopher Herd was driving his children home from day care. He caught just a flicker of the light show out of the corner of his eye.

Christopher Herd has published more than 50 papers about meteorites in recent years.

As a meteorite rocketed across the sky in Alberta just over a year ago, associate professor Christopher Herd was driving his children home from day care. He caught just a flicker of the light show out of the corner of his eye.

There were hundreds of reports from across the province of people who saw the meteorite fall, lighting up the sky in shades of yellow, orange and green.

By 9:30 p.m. at night on Nov. 20, 2008 — the day the meteorite came down — Herd had already done a half a dozen interviews with media. He studies meteorites, with the department of earth and atmospheric sciences at the University of Alberta, and has published more than 50 papers about them in recent years.

It took another week before a University of Calgary grad student found the first chunks of the meteorite in a frozen pond, near Buzzard Coulee, around 40 km from Lloydminster.

Herd was able to show teachers attending the Alberta Teachers’ Association Science Council Annual Conference this weekend in Red Deer a bit of the Buzzard Coulee Meteorite and tell them about it and other meteorites found in the western provinces. The chunk of space rock was about the size of a piece of gravel, but heavier than its size would suggest. A larger 2.2 kg piece now sits in the Mineralogy/Petrology Museum at the U of A.

So many people watched and recorded the meteorite falling that scientists determined its trajectory, which showed it originated from the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Herd said the Buzzard Coulee meteorite is known as an ordinary chondrite, which means it has chondrules in it. The chondrules are around one mm in diametre and consist of minerals, such as olivine and pyroxene, which existed as molten droplets that stuck together as the solar system was forming billions of years ago. The chondrules in the meteorite preserve what was going on at the very beginning of the solar system.

“This is a rock that escaped any melting and heating and getting into planets and preserved some part of the record of what was going on about 4.5 billion years ago, as the solar system was forming,” Herd explained.

Herd’s love of science started as a child, when he would gather pebbles from his driveway. His father is a geologist who oversees the national meteorite collection in Ottawa and his mother is a librarian, who encouraged his interest in Isaac Asimov’s writings.

He was just one of the many presenters to share information with the 250 to 300 teachers at the conference, which took place on Friday and Saturday at the Red Deer Lodge.

Kevin Klemmer, who is the conference co-director, said the annual science conference allows teachers to take part in professional development.

“Teachers are life-long learners. So they can walk away with the life-long learning and the episodes that they’ve had here and they can take that back to their classroom. They’ll be excited and vibrant to use all of these new ideas in their classrooms,” Klemmer said.

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