• The research team from Curtin University and the trackers after locating the meteorite. (Curtin University)Source: Curtin University
When the traditional owners of South Australia's Lake Eyre region spotted the 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite, it became a race against time to locate it.
Andrea Booth

7 Jan 2016 - 6:19 PM  UPDATED 8 Jan 2016 - 1:32 PM

A 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite crashed in a waterless Lake Eyre in central Australia in late November.

When the Arabana people and cameras installed by Curtin University' Desert Fireball Network saw it land, it was a race against the clock to retrieve it before rain arrived to fill the lake and wash it away.

The Desert Fireball Network used geology techniques such as image analysis, dynamic calculations and triangulation to determine its exact location in Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.

But the search wasn’t over. The next step was to recover it, a three-day effort that required the guidance from Arabana men Dean Stuart and Dave Strangways.

The team also used an aerial spotter piloted by William Creek local Trevor Wright, a remotely operated drone and two searchers on the lake’s surface.

The fireball network’s Professor Phil Bland said the retrieval was a momentous team effort.

“We got there by the skin of our teeth,” Professor Bland said.

The fireball network asked the Arabana people to name it. "You treat a meteorite [landing] like a single one-off event. We might never get another bit of rock like that, so you name it first. and then all the other analsyis that are done about it...refer to it by that single name."

Typically a meteorite is named after the area in which it was found. "The most appropriate situation here is for the Arabana people who, you know, Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre has great significance, they should tell others what name is best, is most appropriate, to refer to the area where we found it".

He added that in the retrieval process he learned more about the land and way of the Arabana people.

"What I really liked was [Dean Stuart the local guide] was actually, he wanted to share that culture and that knowledge and I thought that was really great," he said.

"He was telling us all about how there are actually fresh water springs on the lake believe it or not...so you look out on this ridiculous expanse of salty mud and there are springs out there."

Curtin University’s fireball network, in collaboration with the Western Australian and South Australian museums, placed 32 cameras in the Australian outback to monitor meteorites.

The cameras that captured the fall of this meteorite in November were located at William Creek, Billa Kalina, Wilpoorina and Mount Barry.

The meteorite is thought to be a chondrite or stony meteorite.

Professor Bland says it will provide valuable information about the universe.

“We’ve got a lot more rocks on the ground. This recovery will be the first of many – and every one of those meteorites will give us a unique window into the formation of the Solar System.”

Professor Bland expressed gratitude to the traditional owners of the land for welcoming their research.

“A big thanks to the Arabana people, as well, for giving us access to the lake surface at such short notice.

“We couldn’t have done this without them.”