Marsden, a tiny Saskatchewan farming community that hugs the Alberta boundary, is preparing itself for a stampede of people hunting for prized cosmic treasure after several meteorites were recovered nearby.
"Yee-haw, they finally found something," Glenda Hankins, co-owner of the Marsden Hotel, said Friday after it was revealed that two University of Calgary researchers were the first to locate valuable space rocks on top of a frozen pond late Thursday.
U of C planetary scientist Alan Hildebrand, who was involved in the successful search, estimates thousands more could be strewn over a debris field north of Marsden that is estimated to be as large as 20 square kilometres.
Locals have already dubbed it the Marsden Meteorite. The community of 275 people is about 250 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.
The fragments were once part of an estimated 10-tonne meteoroid that broke up after falling into the Earth's atmosphere on Nov. 20.
Thousands of people from across the Prairies reported seeing a bright fireball streaking through the dark evening sky toward the ground. Several videos and photographs were captured and shown on newscasts around the world.
However, people in the Marsden area not only saw the fireball, which looked bright as a billion-watt light bulb, but many also heard and smelled it.
"It made a rumbling sound and it left a weird smell. This will sound funny, but it smelled like burning rock," Ms. Hankins explained. Even before the first pieces were found, she had created a special shooter for the hotel's bar called the Meteorite.
She expects a $10,000 reward being offered by U.S. meteorite collector Robert Haag for the first one-kilogram chunk of the space rock found will be a major draw.
There already might be a taker.
Alberta resident Les Johnson, 52, and his son, Tom, 13, found a large piece Friday afternoon near the Battle River outside Marsden.
"It smells real funny. If you leave it in the truck too long, it stinks it up," he said, adding the meteorite weighs about 13 kilograms and is the size of a "real lumpy" human head.
Mr. Johnson, who runs an oil-field service company in Drayton Valley, Alta., which is about four hours northwest of Marsden, said he's still trying to figure out what to do with it. "I'm not sure right now. I might just keep it."
Technically, the meteorite belongs to the owner of the property where it was found. "I'm not even sure who owns the land. There was no house, just a field," he said.
Richard Herd, curator of the National Meteorite Collection of Canada in Ottawa, said the meteorite shower in western Saskatchewan has left space samples that are invaluable for ongoing research and a better understanding of the solar system.
"It's a piece of the puzzle, but it's our piece of the puzzle," Dr. Herd said, referring to the reward being offered. He said that by law, meteorites that fall in Canada are considered to be Canadian cultural property, and foreigners can not legally export them.
He said people who find meteorites and donate them to institutions such as universities or museums are eligible for government tax credits.
Dr. Herd said about 50,000 meteorite samples exist around the world.
Grant Jones, a farmer who owns land in the area where many more of the fragments are expected to be recovered, is already warning interested space rock collectors to ask for permission from property owners before setting out on their hunt.
"It's deer-hunting season. People better watch out or at least wear an orange hat or it could get messy out there," the 58-year-old said.
The largest meteorite shower in Canada occurred northeast of Edmonton near the town of Bruderheim in 1960. More than 700 fragments were recovered that together weighed 300 kilograms.
With a report from The Canadian Press