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Fireballs in the Sky with NASA

Fireballs in the Sky with NASA

fireballs curtin NASA

In partnership with NASA, Fireballs in the Sky headlines on their main portal science.nasa.gov in Citizen Scientists!

As the Desert Fireball Network researchers expand to a Global Fireball Observatory with many international partners – including NASA – Fireballs in the Sky outreach expands globally too.

See the outreach in action with NASA’s ScienceCasts, featuring Brian Day of NASA’s Ames Research Center, who shares our citizen science app alongside the wonders of meteor showers:

“Not only are these fireballs memorable visual events, but also they are of scientific interest. Anyone can participate in a citizen science effort by reporting his or her observations. ‘Fireballs in the Sky’ is a free app that makes this easy. It is made available by Curtin University in partnership with NASA.”

 

 

DFN did it again!

DFN did it again!

dfn-again

The DFN did it again! The fireball chasers and citizen science successfully tracked and recovered a freshly fallen meteorite from a Western Australian farm!

The 1.15kg meteorite, which is shaped like a squished brick, fell to earth at 8.04pm on Monday, 31 October 2016 and was located and recovered within the week, thanks to reports from our award-winning Fireballs in the Sky citizen science app (in particular from Carol Redford, founder Stargazers Club of WA), leading to a rapid response by the DFN team downloading the data from our outback camera system.

Recovered so swiftly and with minimum contamination (i.e. no rain!), it’s a gloriously pristine sample, already X-ray CT scanned and ready for thin section analysis… as you can imagine the scientists are stoked! In particular, the meteorite may have retained salt crystals and potentially water from its parent asteroid – an exciting find if it matched water found on Earth.

It’s a thrill that the public played a part in making this extraordinary recovery – from app reports to the locals support in searching their land – amazing what happens when we can connect the community with STEM research in action!

To jump on board with citizen science, download our award-winning app and keep connected with our planetary science adventures as we chase down clues to the formation of our solar system! http://fireballsinthesky.com.au/download-app/


 

Click here to read the full media release, see more photos on our facebook page and follow @FireballsSky to catch the news coverage shared online.

If you would like to read the thrilling tale of Carol Redford’s chance encounter, head to her blog, http://stargazersclubwa.com.au/blog/day-met-meteorite/

 


Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, Day 20

The weather in Australia has turned cooler again, and we’re set to start hunting down some more meteorites. To give you a taster of what that’s like, here’s some more of Luke’s blog from a recent trip … (the story started with On the Road Again)

Oh my god, that was bliss! I mean, anything would have been bliss after what we had been through, but my god, aren’t beds just the best invention?! It’s kind of depressing that modern mattresses are a relatively new invention and what has passed for a bed for most of humanity’s existence is a rock in a cave and maybe some hay. We had been given strict instructions to be up early to make the most of the day before our evening flight, but screw that, we were knackered! We didn’t set an alarm … and still woke up at 6am! Thankfully I got back to sleep and woke up around 8:30am. Ah well, that’ll have to do. We showered and devoured the instant coffee supplies. The valet brought the car around and to his credit, didn’t seem to register the filth.

We loaded up and set off to the Barossa Valley! We had a lovely day and at our last stop, we met a wine grower who was very interested in our project and we were very interested in the wine. We even got a guided tour of the estate to where all the grapes were crushed and then saw barrels upon barrels of wine each worth the same as a single one of our DFN cameras! And then it was time to head back to the airport.

Exploring the process of wine making

Exploring the process of wine making

Getting thirsty

Getting thirsty

And that’s it! That’s your lot – until next time that is! I hope I’ve not exhausted all my material, it’s always the danger with these things, I have my staple gags but beyond that? Who knows really! Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, I’m new to this blogging thing so any comments are welcome here or on our social media! Last time I got a great email giving us some pointers about better ways to survive in the bush, I do need to go buy a blue head torch, apparently they don’t attract flies! Also most of this was written in the field, so special thanks go to Lucy, Sarah, Sam and Jay for turning this into something people can actually read! Catch you next time and hopefully we will have more luck!

Yours, Luke.

In full field costume

In full field costume

Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, Day 19

The weather in Australia has turned cooler again, and we’re set to start hunting down some more meteorites. To give you a taster of what that’s like, here’s some more of Luke’s blog from a recent trip … (the story started with On the Road Again)

That’s it then. Realisation dawned like the rising sun, we had failed. Well, not entirely. We had fought against the weather, found all the places the meteorite wasn’t, learnt a hell of a lot about searching out here and what good and bad methods to employ. We didn’t hate each other, despite having been in close proximity and some stormy nights spent literally sleeping on top of each other! The team was still together and morale was high! We had, in short, had an absolute blast. The only thing we had missed was coming back with a nice shiny black rock. The tricky bugger had evaded us. We had been outwitted by an inanimate object.

A beautiful day at the beach ... actually it's a salt lake

A beautiful day at the beach … actually it’s a salt lake

The night before we had packed the cars so it was just a case of roll out of swag, roll swag up and hit the road! Well, the theory was simple. The underneath of the swags had brought up some water to make the soil underneath damp and the swags muddy. And one swag had a scorpion under it and another had a centipede. Those things have a nasty bite but we managed to avoid that. We drove for an hour down to Glendambo  rest stop for brekkie. We decided in the interests of speed to have food on the road. I grabbed two pies – one meat and one banoffee, thank you!

Pie selection

Pie selection

We were returned then to asphalt and we really zipped along. We ploughed through to Port Augusta. Rob lead us to our storage container at Gum Glen and we started unloading all our gear.

Last stretch of dirt road

Last stretch of dirt road

We once again said a big thank you to Dean, who has allowed us use his land as our forward base into the South Australian deserts and store all our gear there. He is such a nice guy. Last time he showed us how to shear a sheep and keep the whole fleece intact! We locked up and left the DFN ute there for the next team and piled into the hire cars. I was banned from anymore driving. Apparently I’ve done too much on this trip. I love driving out here! But anyway, I’m banned. Maybe other people wanted to have a go. I got to relax in the back of a car on the back seat! I haven’t been in one of those for ages. That’s where plebeians and Engel fridges sit isn’t it? The fridge life is good too. You can relax and just watch the world go by whilst making conversation with other passengers. Getting into Adelaide there were suddenly too many other people. It’s amazing how isolation and seeing the same six people for two weeks can make being surrounded by thousands of other humans is quite intimidating.

The forthcoming was a revelation and something I want to make a tradition with the person who is unlucky enough to get landed with me till death do us part. Basically, imagine the sight: we haven’t showered for seven days, we have been in the bush traipsing through deserts getting disgustingly dirty, unloading trucks, covered in red dirt, diesel and sun cream and we have just rocked up at one of the nicest hotels in Adelaide. We look like we took on the apocalypse and lost. And walked into a marble gleaming foyer. This is where you get what you pay for – they didn’t bat an eyelid. They greeted us with courtesy and their faces barely flickered in disgust at the abominations in front of them. We apologised to the valet who had to take the cruiser to some secret carpark for the state his suit was going to be in (just from coming within 5ft of the car let alone getting in and driving it)! They smiled, laughed and joked with us and took our bags (which is a generous description, I mean there were bags in there, but the predominant component was mud and spiky grass).

We got to our room and the challenge was: how orange could we make it? We proceeded to use all of the little bottles! I dived into a glorious shower, chiselled the grime off my face and generally clenned* and then wrapped myself in one of those gowns, silly one-use slippers and about four different sized towels. I drew the line at wrapping my hair up in one. I also realised my beard had actually grown quite a lot … I say beard, I mean more ‘patchy monstrosity with mating hairy caterpillars’. It looked dreadful and I didn’t have a shaver. I suited up and shamed everyone else into doing the same and then went downstairs, transformation complete. This broke the staff. The transformation from ‘something the cat dragged in’ to ‘upstanding members of society dressed for cocktails’ was too much contrast. This is what I want to do more of in the future! Go camping, get hideously dirty, then go to the poshest hotel we can find, worry the staff and then turn it around by going down for dinner in a three-piece suit. It was hilarious! We got down for dinner just in time before it closed.

The team, still smiling at the end of the trip!

The team, still smiling at the end of the trip!

It was a beautiful way to end an amazing couple of weeks of seriously hard graft. The only shame is that now we were clean and wouldn’t be able to shock the passengers on the flight tomorrow with our desert varnish.

*see day 14

Luke’s adventure continues in Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, day 20

Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, Day 18

The weather in Australia has turned cooler again, and we’re set to start hunting down some more meteorites. To give you a taster of what that’s like, here’s some more of Luke’s blog from a recent trip … (the story started with On the Road Again)

Little did I know this would be one of the most grueling days of my life. It started off just like any other, which is when you know that something’s up! When writers say that phrase you know things are going to go downhill fast. No one says it was just another day and then describes a normal day that’s just not literature; unless you’re Jane Austin, that is …  wooooooh.

During breakfast we had a chat about safety after the snake incident yesterday. Phil said we should all wear long trousers and gaiters. I initially protested, thinking that walking around wearing jeans in the desert sun would be a major inconvenience. But then I thought about it a bit more and realised it would be significantly more inconvenient to be bitten by a brown snake in the middle of nowhere. We were splitting up into three ways: Rob was going to fly the UAV and test out its mapping capabilities, one group would search the high mass region while Phil and I budded off to try to access the low mass region on foot. The walk to the area was 7 km and it was already 38°C. I had forgotten to grab Phil’s camelback, but luckily I normally carry two so I gave him one of mine. I took a 5 L jerry can of water as well. We got about 1 km before we realised we were already thirsty and at the rate that we were drinking we would get to the low mass area and would have to come straight back.

Phil went back and grabbed another jerry with about 10 – 15 litres of water in it so we had a combined 30L. That should do. While he was away I had a little siesta, but not before a kangaroo calmly bounced past me. It didn’t notice me and was moving completely at ease. I realised then that I hadn’t seen a kangaroo not freaking out and hopping away from a car.  I’d never seen them just moving normally. It was an awesome sight. When Phil came back we took a long drink and set out. We walked in 20 minute bursts with 5 minute breaks, drinking almost half a litre each every time. This made Phil’s load gradually lighter. It took three hours to get in. Progress was really slow and we were breaking into the 40°C range.

I'll just wait somewhere under a tree ... a tree ...

I’ll just wait somewhere under a tree … a tree …

One tree we stopped at already had a monitor lizard lying under it. I think it was so hot that it couldn’t be bothered to run away! It was perfectly camouflaged in the undergrowth. This is a comforting sight. If I can see something that small which is, by process of natural selection, evolved to be perfectly camouflaged in this environment, then surely (surely!) I would be able to spot a meteorite which is about as contrasting as it is possible to be.

We were completely baking. We sat in some shade and had our wraps hastily made on site from mangled wraps and tinned tuna. It was surprisingly nice! The tuna came with spoons but the heat was such that it took us far too long to figure that we could use them to eat with (it’s not just trolls that become stupider with increasing temperatures)! Tummies sated for now, we started the search in the heat of the day. We had to stick together. We both had GPS but only one sat phone between us. It was really dense undergrowth. In places you could barely see 5m ahead. It would be so easy to lose your sense of direction and get lost. I still felt positive about finding the thing, but we were now looking for something the same size, and probably colour, as a kangaroo poo and this place was full of them. We had to find it! We just had to! We deserve to!

one of the locals

one of the locals

We still did the 20 minute, walk 5  minute drink system. That jerry, despite being emptied, was starting to get really heavy! We took stock of our water supply and realised we had plenty. Phil asked did I want a dump? Which I initially misinterpreted, but what he actually meant was a shower to cool off! This sounded like the best idea ever. We had plenty of water to get us back, it was blisteringly hot and jeans are better than snake bites, but still horrible! Phil poured some of the contents of the jerry over my head. It was hot. Now you may think that this is an exaggeration, but it’s no word of a lie. You know the temperature of tea that has cooled down just enough that it is possible to drink without burning yourself? Yes, it’s a very good temperature for tea … It was initially awful but then evaporation took over and I was in heaven! I upended some more over Phil and, much refreshed, we carried on!

... does that look real to you Phil? ...

… does that look real to you Phil? …

As the sun started to get low in the sky, we reluctantly gave up, gutted. We were both totally shredded with the heat and exertion of what we had done and we still had to get back to camp!

We had another outback shower of borderline-scalding water and then strapped the empty jerry to my backpack. I joked about telling the guys back home that Phil had made me carry everything like a pack mule. Phil gave me a look which made my mind up. We headed back, searching for the first kilometre or so, but then gave up and started searching for snakes instead. It would be silly now to step on one. We finally got back from a walk that would have probably have killed 99% of the population (not wanting to brag).

We were dead on our feet. We radioed the others. They had also been unsuccessful and, even worse, the drone had crashed into a tree and was broken. This thing was cursed even more than me and my companion raincloud! One final drive over the dune field and we were back at camp. Everyone was blitzed. We all just sat there with a cold one. I pointed to my bag and said have you seen that? I waited just long enough for the eyes to bulge in horror and Ellie to whisper why?! before telling them that actually, Phil had been carrying it around for most of the day. The girls made possibly the best meal I have ever eaten. It was the best ever Moroccan roast lamb. I had thirds. I would have been happy to eat that meal and pay $100 at a Michelin style restaurant for that! With the tiny amount of energy we had left, we loaded up everything except the swags for a quick get-away the following morning.

Luke’s adventure continues in Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, day 19

 

Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, Day 17

The weather in Australia has turned cooler again, and we’re set to start hunting down some more meteorites. To give you a taster of what that’s like, here’s some more of Luke’s blog from a recent trip … (the story started with On the Road Again)

Reconnoitre day: Rob went to pick up the UAV (Arthur) and the rest of us drove off to try to find an access road to the low mass end. We had scoured satellite images for anything that resembled a path and there was one potential access road that would take us there.

I was driving the lead car and it was just like driving through the most extreme obstacle course: squeezing through gaps with branches touching either side, before looping around the path as it tuned into a river gorge! No one had been down this road for maybe twenty years and trees were growing in the middle of the track.

After two hours of dodging obstacles, any one of which could have ended our trip, we eventually hit an obstacle we couldn’t navigate around. A fence! There was also a path tantalisingly close on the other side, taunting us. We somehow managed to turn the cars around, which was no mean feat, and headed back. We went into Wilgena Station to see if the owners knew of any path in. They categorically informed us it was impossible to access.

We split up again as there was no point in all of us going on a wild goose chase. The girls stayed behind to do some searching, we made some lunch to have on the go and Phil, Trent and I drove off in search of an access road that didn’t exist. We found the fence that we had been so rudely stopped by, and then a railway, with no way across. We doubled back to find someplace to cross. Hugging the railway, we hit a fence, skirted down it, and found a gate! Which led to a 4 m deep gorge. A tad further up there seemed to be a place which wasn’t so sheer a drop and we gunned the car over. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Now, there was once a road next to the railway, but it was overgrown, rocky and occasionally blocked by trees. It turns out the gravel next to the rail line was much nicer to drive on and we followed that until we hit the next fence. Fence phase one complete! We followed the side of the fence. It was torrid going, the road was bumpy and in places non-existent or washed out. After bashing trees out of the way and driving at precarious angles (please don’t roll!), we got to the first corner, and it was completely washed out. There was a deep hole on the right and a large tree on the left with just enough space to drive through an unstable but flat bit of ground. Too much to the left, and I’ll crash into a tree. Too much to the right and the wheels will slip into the hole, the car rolls, and death becomes a close possibility.

I took so much care navigating, but made it through! Trent then calmly followed as if it was the most normal thing in the world. We followed the track, such as it was, for a while before it gave way to a dune field. The first one was a monster. Again, there was just enough room once Phil had pushed the fence back.  A rock on the left, and the fence on the right to slot the car through … I revved up the first one and stopped half way … awkward. I very, very slowly reversed back down changed to low gear and let down the tires. Trent followed suit but meanwhile, Phil was road building. He had found a gentler slope up on the left and proceeded to use brute force to move several trees out of the way for the cars to pass again. If I stopped, it was game over and I’d slide down the side of the dune and hit a tree, roll or both. I hit 5000 revs and glided up the side, over the top had a quick right turn after the crest to avoid the tree and I was over. Trent nonchalantly followed.

The plan is to not stop – ever – when on soft sand. The cars were cutting deep trenches, and these dune hills were not gently rolling, so much as giant walls. Some were nearly vertical at the crests! This drive will take all my cunning!

I was a bit miffed that no matter how hard the obstacle and how much I struggled around/over/through them, Trent just followed, nonplussed. It was amazing! We stopped for lunch and carried on until we hit the dog fence. It had a gate (excellent!) and we drove along a much nicer track and made good speed to the closest point from the fall line. This time there was no gate and no track. Damn! But still, we had successfully got to a position that even the owner of the land thought was impossible, so we’ll call that a win.

Trent, just chillin'

Trent, just chillin’

There was not much else to do but drive back over the dunes, around the crevasse of death, through (literally) the trees and along the railway. We were exhausted, but we had one more idea – maybe there was a gate further along one of the tracks we had already used to access the fall line. We drove down the path, through some small dunes and found a gate! It was still a bit of a way from the closest point but it was at least an option. We drove down the last few kilometers over a massive wall of sand and nearly slid into the fence as it turned sharply. This was the closest point as the crow flies to the low mass end but it was still a 7 km walk and no gate. Ah well, it was at least hackable and didn’t take two hours to drive to …

Sometimes there's a good, obvious track. Today was not one of those days

Sometimes there’s a good, obvious track. Today was not one of those days

By this point Trent and I had been driving for nine hours. We were shredded. But the gate had given me hope and after hacking through dense bush and being foiled at every turn by the land I wanted some of my own back! I was all for bushwacking through the gate cross-country style to the fall line but it was getting late, we were all knackered and it was decided we should head home. Man, I used the word ‘home’ to describe camp – I’ve been out here too long!

We drove back and collapsed into a folding chair. Now, because the party had been split everyone knew how hard they had worked today and how broken they were because of it. However, everyone else had been working just as hard and was just as broken. The girls had been out for five hours searching in the heat of the day, as well as preparing a pork joint so when we all got back to camp everyone thought it was everyone else’s responsibility to wait on them hand and foot.

Sadly, our poor pork joint had had its fire fed all day, and was much hotter than it was normally, the result was that even the inside was cremated and the potatoes had formed coals!

Mmm tasty charcoal

Mmm tasty charcoal

There was surprisingly still some not ‘burnt to a crisp’ bits of pork in the centre, and it was quite delicious. But to plan B for dinner it is!  There was a bit of joking about inabilities to cook which I immediately lived to regret as I started BBQ-ing some sausages and fell into the same trap they had had with the hot fire. Before I knew it my sausages were black on the outside but raw in the middle. A veritable British BBQ …

A too-hot campfire that managed to spoil dinner plans A and B

A too-hot campfire that managed to spoil dinner plans A and B

I hastily took them off and waited for the fire to cool while the girls enjoyed a large helping of schadenfreude. Trent had better luck with his pasta with bacon and pesto, so at least we would have something edible. Whilst stoking the fire I managed to get a splinter, and got a needle from the first aid kit – which was rubbish! Well, it was good at stabbing me, but not at removing the offensive piece of wood! Thankfully Ellie exists and has the device for every eventuality. She and her amazing tweezers pulled it out no problem, thanks Ellie! So multiple fails from pretty much everyone except Trent … Trent was having a good day what with spectacular driving and culinary skills of not burning food. And we had a lovely meal!

We then got Arthur (the UAV drone) flying and shot some awesome videos of the camp and some less awesome ones of us singing happy birthday to Ellie’s sister. I had brought my guitar and then everyone decided to sing in a different key to the guitar which led to much hilarity and frustration. Ellie then crashed the drone into the ute but thankfully didn’t damage it.

Beer just wasn’t cutting it anymore so the gin came out, which was a suitable night cap. The girls also reported that the dunes were criss-crossed with snake tracks and then, on cue, Phil nearly stepped on one behind the ute. It was small and silver, the most beautiful snake ever, and a quick google implied that it was a brown snake (in spite of all evidence of our eyes, and the fact it was tiny). This is one of the most deadly snakes in Australia. There was nothing else for it – we can’t have a deadly snake in camp … I reversed the car and Phil made short work of it with a hand axe … A further search the next day revealed it was not actually a brown snake but a blind snake which is completely harmless, not to mention blind … but let’s not go into that. It ate ants and now ants were eating it. Ellie felt quite bad about her misdiagnosis.

But the evening was still pretty

But the evening was still pretty

Luke’s adventure continues in Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, day 18

Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, Day 16

The weather in Australia has turned cooler again, and we’re set to start hunting down some more meteorites. To give you a taster of what that’s like, here’s some more of Luke’s blog from a recent trip … (the story started with On the Road Again)

We got up. Standard fare by now, breakfast etc. Oh, except that Sarah had been suffering for the last week with sugarless tea in the morning so we cleaned out all three rooms’ sugar sachet supplies and then bought sugar cubes at the shop anyway!

We pumped up the tires and it was decision time: Do we try to get back into the fall site and look at the small end, or do we hit up the southern fall site and give that a good recon for the second group? We decided, after going round the same plan about 5 times like a broken record (and winding Phil up no end), to head south to the other fall site!

It didn’t take long to reach the site. I remembered where I was going and we were driving on tarmac for a change. We got to Wilgena Station, said hello to the folks there, and then went down to the fall line. I acted as a guide, easily found the first track in and showed people where camp would be.

We then went out to find the other track which led to the fragments and Phil uttered “You really do have a great sense of direction lad”. I then immediately took a wrong turning and ended up pretty much back where I started. I quickly doubled back to the right (and only other) path. I stopped at a gate (which we went through after Phil managed to decipher the unusual fence mechanism) and we went on through. This also turned out to be wrong and we doubled back again. We finally, finally took the right (and only other) path. Everyone had a great laugh. We got to the fall line and I realised I’d also forgotten my GPS back at camp like an idiot and misread the masses, so instead of the 25g region Phil wanted to search we were in the 250 g- 500 g zone (I was having one of those days). We went for a little search and then headed back to make camp.

To add to the day of failed directions, Ellie took the lead back to open the last gate for us … and took the exact wrong turning through the wrong and impossible gate that I had taken Phil earlier. Sarah had just said to me, “No, Ellie won’t take the wrong turn, Ellie is clever. She won’t make the same silly mistake as you …” Kiss of death! Turns out she had been asleep on the drive in and had vague memories of a gate so went the exact same wrong way as me.

We got back expecting to see Rob, who had stayed behind to work on the drone (henceforth referred to by its name, Arthur) flying it. But as we arrived there was no sign of a drone. There was unfortunately no sign of it in camp at all. Or in the vehicles. As it turned out, we had left it four hours away back in Coober Pedy. Luckily, the manager of the hotel is a legend of the highest order and was driving down to Adelaide the next day and agreed to meet up with us at a petrol station on the way. Crisis averted …

Wait, I think that was all that happened today. Really? Oh I suppose we had to set up camp and stuff. Oh, and we had kangaroo steaks for dinner. Wait was that today? Yeah, why not? There is a photo of it and everything. In said photo it looks like I’m being a valued member of the cooking squad when in actual fact it was all Phil, majestically turning meat, while I sat like an apple on a shelf with heaps of potential energy but currently no motion.

They say Australia is the only country that eats its national animal. That is somehow weird until you think about it, and realise most countries don’t pick animals that are native to their own land for their national animal e.g. the English Lion or Leopard which are a bit hard to eat and there might be riots, or simply chose creatures that don’t even exist like the Scottish Unicorn and Welsh Dragon. How’s that for weird? There is also the fact that kangaroo is delicious!

Luke’s adventure continues in Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, day 17

Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, Day 15

The weather in Australia has turned cooler again, and we’re set to start hunting down some more meteorites. To give you a taster of what that’s like, here’s some more of Luke’s blog from a recent trip … (the story started with On the Road Again)

So, we can’t go back to the fall site. But we do need the data from two cameras further north – Mount Barry and Lambina (pronounced la-min-a), to accurately triangulate another fireball that had fallen recently. We restocked some vegetables from the shops, dropped Martin at the airport, and fixed our flat tires. Lambina is a 4 – 5-hour drive north and it was already midday. The guys who were off to Lambina would be lucky to get back by midnight.

We split the team: Phil took Ellie and Rob up to Lambina, (remember how to say, it is important because people care about it deeply – it’s not lamb-bina it’s lamina) and Sarah, Trent and I went up to Mount Barry. I had the sudden realisation that I was actually the only DFN employed person in my group and was therefore the kind of ‘leader’ which suddenly heaped a load of responsibilities on me, but luckily Sarah was with me last time I was out here when we built the Mount Barry camera so I wasn’t totally flying solo! We headed towards the station and found the road had opened – at least for 4WDs! I was in the Land Cruiser with only a pile of vegetables for company. This was the first time I’d driven the cruiser and by God, it’s a bone-jarrer! I felt every bump and it was significantly harder to control!

We started playing Animal, Mineral, Vegetable (otherwise known as 20 Questions) over the radio until I decided that the road required more of my attention. The others then played “Guess what is on the radio?” ( … It’s sport. Let’s guess what sport? Ok, let’s guess who is playing. Oh! Australia and New Zealand. Now who is winning? …) This, apparently, took a full hour of radio listening to establish.

Still, we made it up to Mount Barry station and popped in to see Tony and Jackie. We discovered from them that our earlier radio transmissions had been picked up by everyone in the surrounding 100 km. This made me very self-conscious about what I had said during 20 Questions …

Anyway, we had just enough time for a lovely cuppa tea with amazing homemade biscuits and discovered that Tony and Jackie will be appearing in Robson Green’s Australian Adventure – airing on the Discovery Channel on the 12th Nov. Too soon, we had to leave and head down to the camera site. Luckily, this camera’s internet connection works perfectly and all we had to do was exchange the full hard drive for a fresh one. I climbed onto the roof of the cruiser for better sat phone reception and called Martin (back in Perth) to turn the camera off remotely. The camera beeped, signalling that it was off. I felt like some bizarre puppet master barking orders from a pedestal and watching my minions (Trent and Sarah), unplug the camera, change the hard drives, and reboot the camera. Martin, on the other end of the blower, confirmed that it was all ok and we set off back for Coober Pedy. When we got there, the road back to our original area was open again – a minor miracle! We got back and tried to sort out the food and make dinner ready for the other group. They arrived at around 11 pm and we put a hotdog in one hand and a beer in the other. All was well.

 

Luke’s adventure continues in Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, day 16

Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, Day 14

The weather in Australia has turned cooler again, and we’re set to start hunting down some more meteorites. To give you a taster of what that’s like, here’s some more of Luke’s blog from a recent trip … (the story started with On the Road Again)

The search team from left: Martin C, Sarah, Rob, Phil, Luke, Trent, Ellie

The search team from left: Martin C, Sarah, Rob, Phil, Luke, Trent, Ellie

Martin has to fly out from Coober Pedy tomorrow morning, so we need to clear out of camp today! We had some torrential rain last night that made the journey somewhat treacherous. The road we had come in on was definitely not an option. We had been bogged on that road before and would probably drown in the salt lake now. A new route to forge then! We got up, packed the tents away, loaded up the vehicles, and set out. We had all day, so the plan was to do a final check of the low mass end we had scouted a few days ago on the way through.

Nullarbor mud between the toes

Nullarbor mud between the toes

The route there wasn’t too bad. We had to double check a few places but got out with just a few detours around salt lakes, soft ground, and avoiding the standing water that had cropped up everywhere! We made it to the fall line, this is it – last chance. We hit out, looking for a 25g rock about the size of a 50 cent piece. It felt like there was a fever pitch in our searching, everyone was desperate to come out of here with something. We were against the clock, the sun was already high. We powered through, searching everywhere. We covered vast swathes of the low mass area in a few hours, but too soon, it was time to head out again. We were gutted that we didn’t find anything, but confident if we or the next group could only get back here again, it would be only a matter of time before we found it!

Phil, Sarah and I lead the way out. There were a few hair-raising moments while we were picking our way around the huge salt lake. We were treading a fine line between running aground on the dunes to our right, or sinking into the muddy gunk of the salt lake on our left. At one particular moment, we thought we were buggered. We came across a flowing stream that was about 30 cm deep and 10 m wide. Looking at the map and the ground in front of us it only got worse to our left and right. We had to cross, and it had to be here. This could be it, if we can’t cross here, we’ll be walking out – 40 km to the road and across 50 m dunes. Not a fun prospect.

Phil and I went out into the creek to test the ground. It felt surprisingly solid and there were enough reeds that they could provide the traction we would need. Being the lead car can be a curse at times. This, I thought, will take a portion of my cunning … No, wait, all of my cunning! Handbrake off, gas down, 3000 revs, hit it! The key to all of this is momentum. Things in motion stay in motion, things at rest stay at rest. Don’t stop, keep moving, crushing reeds, and sending up huge splashes. The ute bounced across aaaaand through to the other side. Boom! One down three to go. Following my example, the others smashed and splashed through and we all felt invincible. Bam! Have that nature! After the beating we had been taking, we finally got one back!

Next up was a dune field. This was less like driving and more like surfing. Up and down we went and finally to the other side where we faced potentially the worst of the lot. The creek where we had been bogged on the way in. This could be a raging torrent at this point. After everything we had been through and fought through we could be scuppered here … And it was bone dry! Finally, a bit of luck. We still gunned it across to be sure, but we were out!

Or so we thought. The road itself was waterlogged with standing lakes all the way along the last section. We had to make huge detours off the beaten track to avoid the spongy ground beneath. Eventually we figured it was actually best to ignore the road and bee lined to the main track. Once there, we had a bite of lunch, and refilled the tyres to a real pressure so they wouldn’t overheat and explode at 110 km/h.

The time was 3 pm. It was 400 km to Coober Pedy and the bottle shop. The road was slippery, and creeks and floodways had washed sections of the road away, and the bottle shop closed at 7 pm. 400 km in four hours was our challenge. I have never driven so carefully but efficiently in my life. Some of the floodways were so difficult that it meant that you had to drop to nearly 20 km/h. We arrived with 10 mins to spare, and even the STIG would have been impressed. We also saw the sign on the highway entrance which confirmed our fears – the road back to our site was closed.

We ran in to the shops, restocked, and then went up to the hotel. We ordered pizzas and I had a blissful shower. I’ve decided I’m going to reclaim a word and give it a proper meaning. That word is ‘clen’ it’s a northern England-ism that also means clean. However, as we already have ‘clean’ it is largely redundant and I think my new definition is better. ‘Clen’ will now mean the result of cleaning which is ultimately futile. Like this shower. I mean, I even had soap, shampoo and conditioner, and I had a good long shower and a good ole scrub but the white towel was still orange at the end! Although I had cleaned myself, I was not clean. Therefore, I was clen. But I still felt a million times better. And now we did one of the best traditions of this trip. We got our glad rags on, went to collect the pizza and then sat drinking beer with a view over Coober Pedy. The juxtaposition and contrast  of eating pizza in a 3-piece suit pleased me immensely! This was the ‘smart’ dinner we meant to have on the day of the drowned lamb but, despite not being in the bush, we agreed it was still suitably silly to fit the bill for our group.

Taking a moment to rejoice in pizza, beer silliness and civilisation

Taking a moment to rejoice in pizza, beer silliness and civilisation

Daly idea 4: How were we going to tell Phil we found the meteorite (if we are so lucky to find it?)

Luke: put on a south African accent and treat it like some venomous skittish animal and hail everyone with something like “Alright brew, come here! No, shh, shh we don’t want to frighten it! Come close, come close, don’t be afraid …”

Luke’s adventure continues in Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, day 15

Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, Day 13

The weather in Australia has turned cooler again, and we’re set to start hunting down some more meteorites. To give you a taster of what that’s like, here’s some more of Luke’s blog from a recent trip … (the story started with On the Road Again)

This morning we woke up and a thunderstorm was still raging. We had to wait a few hours for it to pass.

Strange scratches appeared by the cars we were sleeping in after another storm had rolled in.

This was the day of three storms. We had woken up with our thunder clap alarm clock. We’d had a storm the night before and so (luckily) were safely ensconced in the cars.

These storms had gone on way too long – the team was now starting to go pagan on me – making comparisons of our predicament with the story of Jonah and claiming that I needed to be sacrificed to appease the weather gods …

Once the storm had passed, we built a fire, made ourselves lunch and prepared a dinner feast – the lamb leg went into the camp oven and was buried in the coals, to be ready for us when we got back.

 

Searching in a (mostly) dry riverbed

Searching in a (mostly) dry riverbed

Crazy landscapes of the Nullarbor

Crazy landscapes of the Nullarbor

We headed out and searched a huge area – in all we hiked about 16 km, finishing off the remaining area for this fall. It was official. Definitely no meteorite there! We had looked everywhere … Well, not everywhere, there was a small triangle we missed on the way back, about 5 km away from camp. On the return leg, a huge thunderhead formed behind us and began chasing us down. We carried on for a time at a quickened pace, but when the first bolt of lightning hit, and the thunder indicated it was only 10 km away, we were 5 km from camp. Digression being the better part of valour, we bolted and bee-lined back to camp.

The sky did not look quite that ominous just a few minutes ago ...

The sky did not look quite that ominous just a few minutes ago …

Now I’ve always wondered about the saying ‘bee-line.’ It implies you take the most direct route possible, but have you ever seen a bee fly? Its flight path can be described as many things, but a straight line is not one of them. It’s more like a drunken swirl. Anyway, thus began that obligatory level in any computer game where the edge of the screen is chasing you and you have to stay ahead to stay alive. Game over today might mean several thousand volts through the chest!

A thought flitted through my head: maybe the storm is driving us towards the meteorite and we’ll find it now at the most inconvenient time! Or maybe, the meteorite knows we were about to find it and summoned the storm to head us off! or maybe, I really need to not talk. I had been winding everyone up with nonsense superstition sayings like “Today’s the day everyone, I can feel it” and, “Oh look, what a beautiful day with no storm clouds at all!” and then not five seconds later “Oh balls!”. The storm was gaining on us but we just had to get back to camp and then we would be safe.

It was a really close thing – literally we got to camp, locked it down in 10 seconds flat and then the wind picked up. We looked back as a huge dust storm loomed over us, and we dived into the cars before it engulfed us. This was one of the most violent storms I’ve ever been in. The lightning was so intense it was like a strobe light – any second, I thought, our poor tent is going to disappear into the night! Then the rain hit. It was like being in a horizontal high pressure hose. It absolutely lashed down. Our camp almost instantly became a lake. The lake began to flow, streams formed, and then merged into rivers, water poured into our tent and out on the other side of our pathetic wall, our poor dinner was swamped. We hoped against hope that the seal would hold and so our delicious roast lamb wouldn’t be changing into a drowned gritty lamb.

The rain hits

The rain hits

The storm raged for several hours. Some of us tried to get some broken sleep to make up for the lack of sleep over the course of the last week. After the fourth hour it finally passed. Phil woke us up. I had apparently dozed off. I looked at the receding storm in the distance and the wind carrying it away from us.

“Oh yeah, is that the best you got?! Yeah, you walk away!”

Everyone stared at me incredulously. Then the wind changed direction, bringing the storm back towards us.

“Why, why, would you say that?!”

Thankfully the storm did not hit us again and it continued to recede. We got the fire going and rescued our dinner. We were supposed to dress up and have our traditional suits and cocktail dress dinner in the bush but we were so beat up and tired that it was all we could do to re-warm the lamb and await the moment of truth … It was fine. A tad watery, but mostly these were lamb juices, not muddy, turbid rain water. Thank God for that, amazing! I love lamb in any form, but this was miraculous!

Dinner's ready! (I hope ...)

Dinner’s ready! (I hope …)

On another note, the ground was still very wet. There was a huge hole, disguised by water, near where the fire pit used to be. This Rob repeatedly fell into, until he raged “I quit!!!” and scraped dirt from all around into the hole, camouflaging it nicely. He fell into it again a little while later.

Around the campfire after yet another storm

Around the campfire after yet another storm, with probably another storm brewing

We were just toying with the idea of setting out the swags when the horizon lit up like the start of a Dreamtheatre concert. You have got to be joking! This is ridiculous now! With leaden depression we rerolled the swags, made camp safe, had a beer, and just stared blankly at the third storm of the day as it rolled – unceasingly and completely demoralizingly – towards us.

We crawled back into our cars and the storm battered us relentlessly all night. Martin took this epic shot of the lightning seconds before we were engulfed. I don’t even know what to say at this point.

lightning-strikes

Of the six nights we have been here, four have been spent in the cars due to storms. I have never seen weather like this. It is a beautiful and a stunning force of nature, but at the same time, humans do not function well when you can count the combined hours slept over four days on two hands. We had been working really hard. Really hard, and we had been hit by everything Australian weather can throw at us, but still managed to cover the fall area in blistering heat, still smiling. Incidentally, my nickname has now become Cheshire, as in the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. I like it, therefore it won’t stick. No one keeps calling you by a nickname if you actually like it. Your childhood would tell you that.

Hard work is always rewarded. That is what everyone says. The exception to this rule is if you are meteorite hunting. You can work incredibly hard, go through the area with a fine toothcomb and still come out with nothing. It’s the nature of the beast. We had gone through cycles in our search, starting with hope: ‘Oh yeah easy we’ll just find it and go home’; then slowly we moved on to try to make a deal with it: ‘Come out little meteorite. We don’t want to hurt you, we just want to meet you and adopt you and take you home out of this awful weather’; which quickly descended into death threats: ‘When I find you I am going to slice you up with a diamond-edged saw, shoot you with a laser, grind you up and dissolve you in acid, and I’ll make you wish you’d never fell from the sky!’ ; and then finally to begging: ‘Please please, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. I promise we won’t do any analysis on you at all, we will put you in a beautiful exhibit and no one will ever harm you, we promise! … ’. Still nothing. Meteorites can be such arseholes!

Daly Idea 3

Luke: Due to the hunting ban in the UK there is a currently a serious problem with unemployment. There are 1,000s of beagles just kicking their feet (yes, Bill Bailey has influenced this). If we could train them to sniff out meteorites, we could use them in the hunt. We would obviously be mounted on horseback blowing our horns to signal the hunt had begun and we would chase the meteorite mercilessly across the outback and bring it down and kill it, like the sly fox that it is! Although, then we might actually have to start filling out ethical approval forms because someone will claim its un-lith-ane and rocks have feelings …

Luke’s adventure continues in Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, day 14