Meteorites are geological items of interest which have brought many visitors to the Prairies. When a piece of rock falls from space at high speed, it enters the atmosphere, and friction with the air causes it to burn up. This burning rock is called a meteor and can produce a bright flash of light which is visible from the ground.
Most meteors disintegrate before they reach the ground, but sometimes a rock is large enough to fall all the way to the Earth’s surface. Once on the surface, the rock is known as a meteorite. If a rock is large, it may explode into smaller pieces before it hits the ground. Some meteorites are called stony meteorites, containing minerals with silicon and oxygen. Others have larger amounts of iron and nickel, giving them a high density.
Although it is rare to find a meteorite, Alberta is a good environment for locating them because of its expanse of flat ground. In fact, of 50 meteorites recovered in Canada since records have been kept, 14 have originated from Alberta. Meteorites from Alberta have provided valuable information about some of the oldest rocks of the solar system, particularly to university researchers. A plateau created by a past meteorite impact is known to exist south of Elkwater Lake, at Eagle Butte.
On November 20, 2008, a meteor created a very bright flash over the Prairies. Astronomers believe that its original mass may have been 10 tonnes – much larger than most meteors that pass through the sky. The meteor was large enough to produce fragments which may have fallen near the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.