Application of drone-captured thermal imagery in aiding in the recovery of meteorites within a snow-covered strewn field

Patrick J. A. Hill, Libby D. Tunney, Christopher D. K. Herd

Version of Record online: 27 February 2023


“The rapid recovery of meteorites mitigates the exposure of astromaterials to the terrestrial environment and subsequent contamination. Modern fireball observatories have enabled the more accurate triangulation of fireball trajectories, which has aided in the location of strewn fields, in the case of meteorite-producing events. Despite this advancement, most meteorite searches still use manual searching to locate any meteorite falls, which is often labor-intensive and has a slow coverage rate (km2 day−1). Recent work has begun exploring the application of drone technology to the recovery of meteorites; however, most of this work has focused on falls in arid environments. Our study examines the utilization of drones with thermal imaging technology to aid in the recovery of meteorites that have fallen on a snow-covered field. We created a simulated strewn field that included meteorite specimens as well as Earth rocks with similar properties (“meteowrongs”). Thermal imagery was utilized to determine whether the thermal contrast between meteorites and snow could aid in the identification of meteorites. We found that the thermal contrast was significant enough that meteorites were readily identifiable within thermal images; however, it was not significant enough to distinguish between the meteorites and the meteowrongs. The utilization of thermal imagery in conjunction with visible imagery has the potential to aid in the rapid recovery of meteorites in snow-covered landscapes.”