Arizona State University (ASU) researchers have found traces of a meteorite on tribal land. The celestial body had passed near the Arizona’s sky on June 2, blinding all NASA cameras. The White Mountain Apache Tribe has granted permissions to study the space rock.

On early June, an asteroid the size of a Volkswagen Beetle entered the Earth’s atmosphere above Arizona, at 40,000 miles per hour. Some people in the southern state detected rare sonic booms and called the police. Later on the day, NASA confirmed the sudden visit of the fireball.

Arizona meteorite
Researchers from Arizona State University have found traces of a meteorite on tribal land. Credit:

The space rock exploded in the atmosphere, although rests scattered over the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, an area managed by the White Mountain Apache Tribe. The latter approved the research and scientists were allowed to explore the mountainous terrain.

Laurence Garvie, a curator of the Center for Meteorite Studies at ASU, said locating a meteorite on state land was “a once-in-a-generation experience.” The team found traces of the celestial rock after three nights of camping and 132 hours of searching.

Every day, 80 to 100 tons of space materials fall on Earth, of which a significant part comes from meteorites. Space rock hunters drove 5 miles an hour and defeated Cactus before they could found meteorites the size of a pea.

The journey was worth it: 15 meteorites found after 132 hours of searching

Professor Garvie was surprised when we woke up on June 2 and saw social media posts showing the possible passage of an asteroid, containing the kinetic energy of 10 kilotons. The National Weather Service analyzed the phenomenon using the Doppler radar in Flagstaff.

The detector determined that spatial rock had fallen on tribal land. “By simple physics, we can estimate where these things are on the ground,” added Professor Garvie in a press release issued on Tuesday.

People cannot access areas under the management of tribes unless they ask for permission for hiking or fishing. Meteorite hunters knew that finding the space rock was going to be a difficult task.

Jacob Moore, assistant vice president of tribal relations at ASU, met the tribal council of the White Mountain Apache Tribe to request a research authorization. Tribal chief ranger Chadwick Amos agreed to help the ASU team.

Meteorite experts, ASU students, and Professor Garvie began the expedition using four-wheel-drive vehicles. Maximum speeds on country roads in the area could not exceed 5 miles an hour. The team had to defeat insects and cactus. They were also visited by a bear one night.

They found 15 meteorites after 132 hours of hunting. Some are the size of a strawberry, while others are as small as a pea. Professor Garvie said it was “a big deal” to find those “pristine things” coming from space.

“Every new meteorite adds a piece to the puzzle of where we came from. We need to stress how grateful we are to the White Mountain Apache Tribal Chairman Ronnie Lupe for giving us access. This area is normally totally off-limits to non-tribal members,” Professor Garvie said in a statement.

‘A fresh meteorite is always a fantastic opportunity to learn about our origins’

Both experts and students were surprised by their new findings. Graduate Prajkta Mane said that researchers analyze space rocks in university laboratories. Locating a tiny space rock in the middle of the ground, alongside experienced people “was amazing,” she added.

United States researchers have collected traces of two other meteorites during 2016, in Mount Blanco at Texas and Osceola at Florida. Professor Garvie explained that all searchers were possible due to data provided by Doppler radar.

Ronnie Lupe, Chairman of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, told ASU that having space material on an Indian reservation “is significant in discovery.” Collected meteorites legally belong to the Arizonan tribe, but ASU researchers will be able to analyze them.

Jacob Moore remarked the importance of cooperation between researchers and members of the tribe. Lupe said the team of researchers was respecting tribal laws. Anything found on tribal lands belongs to tribes, under the “tribal sovereignty” regulations.

“The findings of these meteorites belong to the White Mountain Apache Tribe. Tribal resource advisers play a major role in assisting this team as they proceed on tribal lands; they will have a major role in the guidance of our traditional and cultural values as these values are one with the land,” Lupe was quoted as saying by ASU.

Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of the Center for Meteorite Studies at ASU, said that fresh meteorites always bring a great opportunity for researchers, to investigate the origins of the solar system.

The United States recognizes tribal lands as “domestic dependent nations.” On early April, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that rests of the Kennewick Man belong to tribes, under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The skeleton of the ancient man dates to 8,500 years ago. After conducting extensive DNA tests, federal authorities concluded he was a Native American. Five tribes: Colville, Yakama, Umatilla, Nez Perce and Wanapum, have made an agreement to rebury the Kennewick Man.

Source: Arizona State University Press Release