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Daylight meteor sighting has Ontarians poised for lucrative rock hunt

YouTube footage shows a meteor falling from the sky over the Greater Toronto Area on May 4, 2014.

USER CCINHK/YOUTUBE

A rare daylight meteor streaked across the afternoon skies over Lake Ontario on Sunday afternoon – a once-in-a-decade astronomical event that is certain to spark a large and possibly lucrative rock hunt throughout Southern Ontario.

The meteor fell from the sky on what has become known as Star Wars Day (May the fourth be with you) at almost precisely the same time the Toronto Raptors' season went extinct.

Soon after 4:20 p.m., social-media users throughout Southern Ontario and northern New York posting messages about a loud sonic boom and a bright projectile shooting across the sky.

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Most said the meteor disappeared somewhere around Peterborough, Ont.

While users on Twitter speculated over a deeper metaphysical confluence of events, veteran sky watchers said such a bright daylight meteor is rare but not unprecedented in the area. "From any particular place in Canada, you will only see a daylight meteor every four or five years," said Peter Brown, a professor at the University of Western Ontario who is one of the world's leading experts on all manner of meteors, meteorites and other small debris flying through the solar system. "And in Southern Ontario, I would say someone sees something like this about once a decade."

Trish McAlaster/The Globe and Mail

Dr. Brown and his team at UWO operate a series of cameras and infra-sound microphones across Southern Ontario to detect meteors.

While the cameras do not operate during the daylight hours, he said one of the four microphones, which pick up sounds too low for the human ear to detect, picked up the sonic boom.

Based on a very preliminary analysis of the sound, Dr. Brown said the meteor measures between half a metre and a metre in diameter and weighs at least one metric ton.

"This is a pretty good size," he said. "This is not a small event by any stretch of the imagination."

By comparison, he said, the Peterborough meteor is probably a factor of a thousand times smaller than the massive meteor shock wave that blew out windows in Russia last year.

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"Assuming it wasn't too fast and many metric tons, I wouldn't be surprised if some part of it hit the ground," said Dr. Brown. "It wouldn't be surprising if people start finding pieces in the next few days."

That possibility could spark a lively rock hunt in the coming days.

One meteor expert said the rocks can be worth anywhere from 10 cents a gram up to $1,000 a gram.

"The price tends to dwarf that of most commodities, except maybe really high-end diamonds," said meteor expert Graham Wilson. "I have no doubt people will go out looking for it."

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About the Author
National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

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