Meteorite hunter searches for space rock in Chopper 5

Sep 5, 2022, 11:06 PM | Updated: Sep 6, 2022, 5:32 am

TOOELE COUNTY, Utah — When a fireball burst into the sky above the Wasatch Front on Aug. 13, meteorite hunters immediately began charting a course for Utah in hopes of finding remnants of the space rock.

Recently, Sonny Clary — a man credited with finding some of the first pieces — took KSL TV’s Chopper 5 over the area for a fresh look.

“You might have started something!” Clary quipped as he took in a front-seat aerial view from Chopper 5, noting the tour was a good way to “rule out” areas.

Spotting pieces of space rock is never easy, but Clary noted that the white desert surface made it a little simpler to identify possible meteorite chunks.

Still, appearances from a distance can be deceiving. One spot that looked interesting from the helicopter at one point turned out to be a grouping of logs.

“It’s nothing,” he acknowledged. “But this is an ideal surface, guys. It’s like, I might come back here tomorrow.”

Clary had already refined his search areas with the help of Doppler weather radar images to determine where fragments of the meteorite may have landed.

“Off the returns, with the wind drifts, this will be an ideal location is where we’re at right now,” Clary said.

Clary has had over two decades of experience with trial and error.

“This is a passion I picked up about 20, 25 years ago,” he said in an interview with KSL TV. “So the adventure started. Two months later, I found my first meteorite at a known meteorite strewn field, Gold Basin.”

Clary said he chases all fireballs, or “at least good ones.”

“Since then, I’ve built my collection to hundreds of pieces,” Clary said.

He said when he learned of the fireball in Utah, he sprang into action with a travel plan.

“I talked to my wife — ‘I want to go.’ And she says, ‘Alright.’ And (I was) on the road an hour later,” Clary shrugged.

There is competition. While Clary was out flying in Chopper 5, he spotted at least two other groups he believed also may have been hunting for meteorite fragments.

Clary landed in one area to survey a couple rocks. Ultimately on this day, he came up empty-handed.

“Sometimes you get skunked, but that’s just part of the game,” he said.

On a subsequent trip, he told KSL he found yet another larger piece — one he said weighed 781 grams.

His hope was scientists could determine the composition of the meteorite based on some of his finds.

“For me to be able to say, ‘Hey, I found it. This is the first piece. It’s going to the university to be studied’ — it’s like I won,” Clary said.

Win or lose, Clary said the journey itself drives him.

“It’s the adventure outdoors, meeting the people, and then finding that space rock and knowing part of that is going into your collection to where nobody else has it,” Clary said. “What a great hobby! You come out, explore, spend time outdoors.”

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Meteorite hunter searches for space rock in Chopper 5