ROV Meteorite Hunt

March 15 2017

Expedition Video

On Monday, February 6, 2017, around 1:30 a.m. CST, a sonic boom shook residents of the Midwest as a bright green fireball streaked through the night sky. The sound was that of a meteor, nearly the size of a minivan, entering our atmosphere. After its fall to Earth, radar spotted the end of its journey over Lake Michigan, approximately 10 miles off the coast of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Teen explorers from Chicago, led by scientists from the Adler Planetarium's Far Horizons program, The Shedd Aquarium, and The Field Museum, team up to take on this Underwater ROV Meteorite Hunt. Interested explorers wanted!

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March 15 2017


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Preparation Stage

Hello, my name is David Torrejon, I am a rising senior at William Jones College Preparatory High School. This year, I am one of the Far Horizons summer interns working on the Magnetic Underwater Meteorite Sled (MUMS Jr.)

For the first couple of weeks of the internship, I was concerned about my role as a Far Horizons summer intern, considering I was not that well acquainted with tools and had not taken any engineering classes at school. Fortunately, I was taught by my supervisor and my fellow peers how to properly and efficiently operate tools and how to navigate through Tinkercad, a 3-D design tool utilized to design prototypes. It was initially a struggle, however, it proved to be an arduous yet amusing challenge. In fact, I can now comfortably operate these tools and feel confident teaching my peers how to safely use these tools.

Last week we analyzed the design of the Magnetic Underwater Meteorite Sled (MUMS Jr.) and proposed suggestions for improving the device, we have dedicated this entire week to prototyping the final design of the device so that we can reassess the effectiveness of it through more trials at Northerly Island. This week, we primarily focused on the structure of the device to increase the likelihood that we will collect meteorite fragments. We evenly distributed three PVC columns along the lengths of the sled. These will serve as adjustable attachment points for our magnetic bar. Using a drill press, we drilled holes, whose diameter measured 5 millimeters, vertically along the columns, at one inch intervals. Our magnet bar, which carries four, two square centimeter Rare Earth Magnets that stretch across two opposing columns. We first planned to have multiple magnets at different heights because the fragments’ iron content ranges from 4-10% and differ in sizes.

Our team also built a bumper in front of the sled to prevent any fragments from the meteorite from being knocked off the magnet by large rocks and to reduce the likelihood that a large object damages the magnets. We constructed the bumper out of PVC pipes and highly durable shock resistant rope.

It was a thrilling experience for our team, as we tested the Magnetic Underwater Meteorite Sled (MUMS Jr.) this past Friday at Northerly Island. Based on the trials, our team concluded that we needed to modify some aspects of the sled. During the trials, when we placed the sled in the water, our team noticed that the sled was tilting forward. As a result of the tilt, the mouth of the bar magnet was being congested by the sand, preventing any of our artificial meteorite fragments from attaching to the bar magnet. To solve this issue, we are considering using a movable magnetic bar, or perhaps converting our “bar” to a wheel or sorts. After completing the trials, our team will use our observations to improve the sled. Kachow for now.

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So fun to watch this project continue to continue to develop!

Written by Mary Greenlees - Far Horizons Teen Intern

Hey, my name is Mary Greenlees, I am a rising senior at Riverside-Brookfield High School and I am one of the Far Horizons Summer Interns that are working on the Magnetic Meteorite Sled (MUMS Jr.)

Today was our first day as a Far Horizons Summer Intern team to tackle the project and learn more about the sled itself. Dr. Phil Willink from the Shedd Aquarium visited us to discuss questions we had about the design of the sled and how we could improve the device. We brainstormed a list of concerns and questions we had and asked for his input.

One of the things that we brought up was adding new parts to MUMS Jr. in order to improve it. We discussed adding a rake like device in the front of the sled in order to stir up the sand at the lake bottom, in the hope that any meteorite fragments that had been covered would be more easily discovered. We were also interested in adding a basket, because in the first tests done, it was noted that objects that stuck to the magnet were knocked off the magnet due to a larger object hitting it. In addition, we also thought about adding a bumper (possibly made of rubber) in front of the magnet bar in order to prevent the fragile magnet breaking, and also prevent possible meteorites being knocked off the magnet.

We also had the question of the design of the magnet bar, including what kind of magnets we would want to use. The magnets are a complex issue, due to the multitude of variables that involved choosing the magnets, as well as designing the bar that they would be attached to. We all agreed that we would definitely need stronger magnets than the ones that were used to test the sled on 12th Street Beach. Our research showed differences and similarities between Rare Earth Magnets, Ceramic Magnets, and Alnico Magnets. We discovered that Rare Earth Magnets tend to have a stronger pull (compared to their typical small size), however they were fragile and were generally more expensive. While ceramic magnets are less expensive, but were also brittle. And Alnico magnets are durable, but more expensive. After our research, we decided to do more hands on work with magnets. So we decided to remove the magnets from the hard drives of broken laptops! After extracting the magnets, we began to experiment with other magnets we had on hand in order to evaluate what we wanted our magnets and magnet bar to look like.

For the first day working as a team on the meteorite hunt, we got a lot accomplished and have high hopes for the future of the hunt!

Mary Greenlees

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Our First Prototype Magnetic Meteorite Sled Test

Written by Jennifer Moore - Far Horizons Teen Intern

I am an eighteen year old incoming freshman at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, a recent graduate of Marist High School (but those days are behind me) and also a Far Horizons Teen Intern!

Today was our first day of testing the Magnetic Underwater Meteorite Sled (MUMS Jr.). We did three tests in different conditions, the first one in the sand, the second in the rocks, and the third in the water! (watch the 360 video below)

Before we did any testing we attached a 360 camera to see our progress while the sled was underwater. We also adjusted the height of our magnets using duct tape. All of these tests happened at 12th Street Beach, in Chicago, next to the Adler Planetarium.

Our model meteorites (which look somewhat like space pierogis) were slightly buried by the sand. This really hindered us, because our magnets couldn't pick them up. This will probably be similar to conditions in the lake. However, the magnet picked up lots of what we think is [iron filaments] ( and little magnetic rocks. This is something to take into account when we will be searching in the water... perhaps there is a way to clean this off.

The second test was slightly better than the first. We adjusted the magnet a second time, and the sled pulled far easier than it did in the sand. Hopefully the texture of the lake is more similar to the rocks. We only picked up one meteorites. (space pierogis) Another issue we faced was our sled would push rocks up and onto our magnet, which can be frustrating and possibly push off meteorites (space pierogis) our magnet.

Our final test occurred in the water, about one meter deep. The team all had to wear waders, which felt weird in the water. We had our 360 camera recording during this portion of the test! I (Jennifer Moore) pretended to be the boat and pulled it through the water. Once again, we did not pick up all five meteorites (space pierogis), however we picked up 3 of them! Also our MUMS (Magnetic Underwater Meteorite Sled) moved fairly easy while in the water!

We learned a lot to continue to modify our sled design. Overall I consider it a success!!!

Jennifer Moore

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That 360 video looks incredible. Which camera are you using?

Thanks Andrew! We are using 2 [Kodak PIXPRO SP360 4k] (

Great Lakes Mapping Expedition with NOAA


UPDATE: We were grateful that NOAA Great Lakes invited us on board the RV/STORM this week off the coast of Manitowoc, Wisconsin to gain a deeper understanding of side scan sonar capabilities. They were on the last day of their two week long scanning mission for a proposed Marine Sanctuary

Unfortunately we weren't able to make it out to the strewn field, but we were able to get a solid sense of how the sonar reflects off of the various substrate on the lake bottom (check out the video below). We then went back over certain key areas that stood out in the side scan data to ground truth with a drop camera.

Materials that were used on this lake bed scanning mission: alt Side Scan Sonar alt Mapping Software - ArcView altDrop Camera altTemp/Salniity/Soundspeed Sensor

Lessons learned:

A broad mapping with side scan sonar won't detect each meteorite fragment, but it will give us a better idea of where we might be able to run a magnetic retrieval sled without running into rocks. We are interested in testing high resolution scans on smaller fields to understand how high of a resolution we can achieve. Once NOAA processes the data, it will not only be helpful to us, but for all scientists, as their are very few quality maps of the Lake Michigan lake bed!

More soon!

20,000 Leagues Under the Stars

Chris Bresky Adler Planetarium / Far Horizons / Teen Programs Specialist

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Yesterday was a great day for science! Adler Planetarium Teens joined with Shedd Aquarium Teens in the Shedd’s Teen Learning Lab to join The Deep Space Dive Team!

Shedd Senior Research Biologist, Philip Willink gave the teens an understanding of the lake ecology in the area of the meteorite strewn field, and the challenges that had to be overcome to design a magnetic sled capable of retrieving the metal rich meteorites. Deep Space Dive Teens then teamed up to brainstorm how to make Dr. Willink’s sled even better (see photos and video).

U of Chicago Grad Student Jennika Greer, currently working with the Meteoritics expert Dr. Philipp Heck of The Field Museum, gave the teens information of where the meteorite came from and what it was probably made of so teens could create meteorite simulants to be used in these scientist’s underwater detection/retrieval experiments. Jennika emphasized that, “this is a lot of brand new science that you are all a part of.” The teens were ecstatic that they were part of this expedition, and proud to be helping scientists in their search (watch the video recap below).

We'll be testing the first prototype of the magnetic sled tomorrow! Stay tuned!

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We're picking up steam as we meet more and more interested scientists and science enthusiasts who are excited by our team's work. This kind of meteorite hunt has very little precedent so we are figuring out each step as we go! Nothing like building a plane while it's in flight!

Our team was able to video conference with NASA Scientist Marc Fries, he works in curation and has done a considerable amount of work calculating meteorite falls from weather radar. (Click the link to one of his papers below) He shared new radar readout images (see images below) that show the fragments caught by radar after the fireball.

Dr. Mark Hammergren, Adler Astronomer, is working on calibrating the videos from the meteor sightings and will be able to calculate where in our solar system the meteorite came from. This is exceptional as this will be one of about 18 meteors that has been able to be tracked to its source from video footage. Finding out the meteorite's point of origin will give us a better understanding of what the meteorite is made of.

Adler Teens have completed our first draft of our PVC underwater ROV and will begin experimenting with neutral buoyancy (see image). Next week we'll be engineering meteorite simulants with teens from the Shedd Aquarium to be used in our underwater detection/retrieval tests with sonar and magnetometers (see images of test meteorites).

We are all grateful for the journey thus far, the chance to teach hands on, applicable science, and collaborate with scientists across fields of study. What an adventure!

Check out Marc Fries' Paper Slightly Cloudy with a Chance of Chondrites

20,000 Leagues Under the Stars,

Chris Bresky

Far Horizons Adler Teen Programs Specialist

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Exciting News from NASA Scientist - Marc Fries about our meteorite!

"I can confidently say that this meteorite fall was one of the largest in terms of total mass of the roughly two-dozen falls seen in RADAR imagery since 1998. "


We're deep in planning mode! Our "Deep Space Dive Team" scientists met recently to talk details about the hunt. Greg Regnier of Great Lakes Expeditions, along with Dr. Philip Willink, Senior Research Biologist at the Shedd Aquarium, described the capabilities of the underwater scanning equipment.(See Video)

Dr. Mark Hammergren, Astronomer at the Adler Planetarium, and Philipp R. Heck, Associate Curator of Meteoritics and Polar Studies at the Field Museum, brainstormed techniques to test the scanning equipment. They proposed engineering faux meteorite fragments, creating a strewn field underwater, and testing the readouts of the scanning equipment.

Adler Planetarium After School Hangout Teens have begun engineering a basic, PVC framed ROV, to understand the engineering skills, and underwater science needed, to perform an underwater meteorite expedition. (See Pictures)

We'll begin initial underwater tests this month and plan on joining the these Open Explorers in June to begin to understand the bottom of Lake Michigan in this area. Stay tuned for more updates soon and we'd love to have you all come along for the journey.

20,000 Leagues Under the Stars

  • Chris Bresky Far Horizons Adler Planetarium Teen Programs
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This is so cool. Thanks for the update!

Thanks Andrew! We'll be talking more to NOAA today about how our projects can help each other as well! [Here is there Lake MichiganMarine Sanctuary Project] ( It is incredible how close the two happen to be!

Expedition Background

The Adler Planetarium's Far Horizons Program has one mission: bring real space exploration down to Earth and into the hands of students, volunteers, and the public. On Monday, February 6, 2017, around 1:30am CST, a bit of space literally came to Earth and splashed down in our own backyard! Enthused by the hands on science this brings teens of Chicago, and the ability to collaborate with scientists across fields, the planning for this expedition began.

All parties involved understand the difficulty of this task, the "needle in a haystack" odds of this endeavor, and it drives us all the more to challenge teens of Far Horizons to engineer innovative ways to find and retrieve these meteorites. The STEM Professionals that work and volunteer in the Far Horizons Lab offer our team of teens helpful insights with their design concepts. Astronomers from The Adler Planetarium, and founding members of Far Horizons, Dr. Mark Hammergren and Dr. Shane Larson, enrich our student's understanding of the space science that brought this meteorite to our own back door.Dr. Philipp R. Heck, meteoritics expert from The Field Museum, has given our team insight into the possible make up of these meteorites and ways to detect them. Marc Fries, a scientist from NASA, and a colleague of Dr. Philipp R. Heck, calculated the radar data from the meteorite's path and has created a map that predicts locations of the meteorites (and size distribution), which will prove crucial in our hunt. We are also consulting with the Senior Research Biologist of the Shedd Aquarium, Dr. Philip Willink, to understand the environment of the lake bottom. Dr. WIllink is interested in this expedition, not only for a chance to find hunks of rock from space, but also to capture data of the lake floor that have not been clearly mapped in the past.

In 2003, a similar sized meteorite landed in Chicago, many of the larger fragments were around the size of softballs. The image below crashed through a Chicagoans roof and landed in their laundry! Dr. Philipp R. Heck assumes, from the size and color of the fireball that we are dealing with a similar size and make up of the Park Forest Meteorite (image seen below, Adler Planetarium).

This spring we'll continue to consult with experts as we prepare for our Meteorite Hunt scheduled for the summer (July/August). Everyone involved has a lot to learn from each other as the task of underwater meteorite recovery is rarely undertaken. We look forward to sharing with the Open Explorer Community, build Far Horizon's first OpenROV (to explore Far Horizons of the deep!) and welcome all interested explorers in the Great Lakes region who have access to equipment to join the search. We'll learn a lot from this journey, and hope you will too.

Deep Dives!

Chris Bresky

Far Horizons Teen Programs Specialist Adler Planetarium

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This is just amazing Chris! I want to come help with the hunt!

David, we would love that! The more eyes in the water the better! We have a meeting with the Shedd, Field and Adler crews on April 5th. Will share out the summary of the meeting on Open Explorer and keep you posted! I know their is interest in mods for the Open ROV for picking up objects (ie dense lil rocks from space) and perhaps metal detection/magnetometers. Please let us know if you have any thoughts! - Chris

Cheers Chris, Love it the mashup of space science and underwater technical hunting! I'm subscribed and excited for updates.

Thanks Kevin! We'll have more updates next week!

Hi Chris--we're hoping to have some room for a few of you on our June 2 expedition (see if you'd like to scout out the area a little bit.

That would be wonderful! We'd love to.