Paneth Meteorite Trust Award for drone-assisted meteorite searching 

Bright fireballs streaking across the Dutch skies suggest that every two years on average a new meteorite is dropped in the Netherlands. Finding them back is notoriously difficult and TU Delft researcher Sebastiaan de Vet now plans on searching for them using drones. 

What better way to use the aerial vantage point of a drone to help search for freshly-fallen meteorites? While field searches on foot are a key approach, search areas known as ‘meteorite strewn fields’ can be large and some parts are not well-accessible. An aerial scout could thus help search parties by complementing the ground-based search efforts. However, there are still some unknowns how to do this effectively and more research is needed. 

The Royal Astronomical Society has awarded TU Delft planetary scientist Sebastiaan de Vet a 2023 Paneth Meteorite Trust Award to support a summer intern for studying the use of drones for searching freshly-fallen meteorites. With the project De Vet aims to take a first step in understanding the benefits and limitations for drone-assisted meteorite searching. 

De Vet coordinates the DOERAK fireball camera network that is on the lookout for meteorite-dropping fireballs and is no stranger himself to searching for meteorites. He has joined and helped organise several meteorite search campaigns in the Netherlands and abroad. During these field searches, teams encountered several challenges to recover meteorites. De Vet now wants to investigate in which cases drones can help improve the odds of recovering new meteorites in the specific field search settings that we find in the Netherlands. 

As part of the Paneth Meteorite Trust Award, De Vet will be recruiting an undergraduate student for a summer internship at TU Delft. They will set-up a field experiment at the drone test area Unmanned Valley, situated at the former Naval Airbase Valkenburg. The vacancy for the six-week summer internship will be posted on this website in June 2023. Later this summer, De Vet will also talk about using drones in planetary science during the LDE NL Space Campus Summer School, including drone-assisted meteorite searching.