20 March 2015

Meteorite hunting on ancient Trans-Saharan trade route

On my latest astronomy trip to the Sahara in Southern Morocco, I met with many enthusiast people in astronomy. I had a blast doing many activities related to astronomy as Meteorite hunting, astrophotographying the night sky and learning much of astronomy in general at this fabulous hotel/observatory called Sahara Sky. 10 days of meteorite hunting, astronomy learning and stargazing in the Sahara was incredible and just unforgettable. Please join me in a series of posts on my journey through the Sahara in Southern Morocco and one of the most dark skies places I have ever seen.

Meteorite Expedition (Hafit, Fritz, Hamoud, Stefan and Janne)
Credit: S. Lamoureux/ KTY Toutatis.

My meteorite hunting actually started 2 months before arriving to the site in Southern Morocco. I had printed papers related to meteorites all over my wall as a reminder of what was to come and a way to study easier, as I saw the papers every day on the wall.
It was a real school and I learned a lot from it. I knew all the categories of meteorite, I had read other meteorite hunter stories, taken all the tips and advice people were writing on the Internet. I also went to my local university to check out a meteorite they had that was found 30 years ago in the region. I also went to the extent of e-mailing a meteorite expert in Finland to have some advice on the subject.

Info wall @ my home before the trip
Credit: S. Lamoureux
Eventually he sent me a meteorite from his collection to be observed and studied, that I call mine still today. What I want to say is even if I worked hard and studied a lot on the subject of meteorite hunting, I had no idea what was waiting for me in the field. Sure to say we didn't find any meteorites in the Sahara, since it was hard but we had a really exciting challenge.

In our expedition, we were 4 people; Me the expedition leader, Fritz the hotel owner, my pal Janne from Finland and the driver/guide that led us to those ”secret places” he had heard of. We were equipped with GPS devices, magnets, maps and confidence that we would find a rock from space.

The two days off-road traveling with a 4x4 felt like we were at the ends of the World.
The 2 days hunt was separated by one day of rest and regroup at the hotel. That for me was one of the best part of the hunt: the meeting on the dinner table, planing for the second day of hunting for meteorite. Sitting down with all the participants and discussing the next expedition and the places to search from, I really enjoyed that.

Gear needed for Meteorite hunting
Credit: S. Lamoureux/KTY Toutatis. 
On the second day of Meteorite hunting we headed for a part of the Valley of Draa where the ancient caravan trail of Timbuktu was. This ancient trail was from Zagora (Southern Morocco) through the Sahara desert to Timbuktu (Mali). It was a famous route that merchants took to keep the trade running in Northern Africa.

Of course it was a long shot to go find meteorites in that part of the Valley, but it was also nice to connect with history and culture from this part of the world. To learn about this route of many centuries of trading and expanding civilizations across the African continent in itself was an great experience. I was really happy to be allowed to visit the sites and learn more about the trans-Saharan caravan routes of ancient times.

Even though we didn't find meteorites, we learned a lot and we had a ton of fun. The best part was when Fritz at the last night at the dinner table took out a box and said to me to choose a meteorite from a set that he had purchased earlier. I opened the box and I saw after examination that he was testing my knowledge of meteorites with some rocks he had gathered in that box. I said to him, you will not fool me with these ”Earth” rocks! He laughed and took out another smaller box and said: Ok ok! I was testing you to see if you are worthy to have these. He opened the smaller box and showed me meteorite pieces to choose from. I took one that I liked and we drank to that.

GIF animation of
Meteorite rock gift from Fritz Koring @ Sahara Sky
Credit: S. Lamoureux/KTY Toutatis.
The thing that stuck with me at the end was what the owner of the hotel Fritz said to me. He said: Thank you for being the guide this week and for letting me be the tourist in my own hotel. I thought it was great to bring something new to the table and show something as fascinating as Meteorite hunting.

Please continue reading the next post of my Astronomy trip in the Sahara, Southern Morocco HERE.
Follow the complete travel post series and enjoy the astronomy behind it.
This is all part of the public outreach of Astronomy Club Toutatis, Kustavi, Finland.

Meteorite identification
Trans-Saharan trade routes WIKI

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