Researchers comb Warren County ranch in search of ping pong ball-sized meteorite

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WARREN COUNTY, Mo. (KMOV.com) -- The search is underway for the meteorite that streaked across the sky Monday night and fell to the ground somewhere west of St. Louis.

The space rock, traveling about 44,000 miles per hour, entered the atmosphere above Troy, Missouri and caused a massive sonic boom as it broke the sound barrier. It traveled about 30-40 miles west before eventually reaching ground, and a group of researchers from Washington University think they may know where. 

Using Doppler weather radar readings from Monday night, they narrowed their search to an area southwest of Warrenton along B-Highway in Warren County

A ranch owned by George Heath, to be exact.

"I hope they find it, I think it'll be awesome. I think that'll be cool," Heath said. "We'll rename the farm if they find something."

Despite the high probability of the meteorite being on the property, locating it in snowy fields or a wooded area will be like finding a cosmic needle in a haystack. 

Ryan Ogliore with Washington University said the meteor was probably about five feet across when it entered the atmosphere, but after all the burn-off from atmospheric friction, the remnants on the ground will be significantly smaller. 

“Maybe an inch to two inches," Ogliore said. “So the likelihood that we'll find something is very low but we’ll try anyway."

So Ogliore and other researchers trudged through the snow Wednesday to find the rock, which is expected to be black from burning as it streaked through the sky. While some searchers use magnets to find meteorites, the Wash U team prefer not to because they can alter the rock's properties. 

"There are some people, especially in France, who use the magnetic signature of the meteorite to tell a very nice story of its origin,” said researcher Lionel Vacher. “So when you use the magnet, you lose the signature."

Despite the long odds, the projections on where the meteorite landed must have been pretty good because a second team of searchers showed up on the same property Wednesday.

Steve Arnold has hunted for meteorites for 27 years. He got so good at it, he ended up with his own show about searching for space rocks called "Meteorite Men."

"I've hunted all over the planet. I've found meteorites on six different continents," he said.

Arnold drove from Arkansas with a group of searchers in hopes of finding the Missouri meteorite, and uncovering its secrets if they do. 

While Arnold loves the thrill of the hunt, he knows every space rock he finds has a story. Getting meteorites to the scientists who can unlock that story is why he travels around the world to find them.

"The meteorites can be worth from a hundred bucks to into the thousands. The real value is the scientific information that they contain," he said.

Copyright 2019 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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