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Starfall: Finding a Meteorite with Drones and AI

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Seamus Anderson points at the egg-size meteorite he found in the Australian desert.

Credit: Seamus Anderson/Curtin University

Go outside on a clear night, and if you're very lucky you will see the sky falling. NASA estimates that 50,000 meteorites from space have been found on Earth.

The shooting stars or fireballs they form as they enter the atmosphere can be beautiful, but they're hard to track. Of those 50,000, astronomers have been able to plot the past orbits of only about 40.

Which is why Seamus Anderson and his colleagues at Curtin University in Australia may have made an important first. They report they've recovered a meteorite in the remote Australian outback—one that once followed an ellipse between the orbits of Venus and Jupiter—and they picked it out of nowhere with two drones and machine learning.

"It was a semi-surprise," says Anderson, an American who came to Curtin in 2018 to do his Ph.D. work on technology for meteorite searches. "We weren't expecting to have that much success the first time."

From IEEE Spectrum
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