Motivation for founding of the ERFM
by Thomas W. Grau
My starting point in the past:
Everyone said, it won´t work so. Then one came who did know that fact and simply did it. (Unknown)
Quite as simple as in that saying it was definitely not but it comes always spontaneously in my mind if I am thinking about the beginnings. When I was a student of physical engineering sciences in Berlin and attended lectures in astronomy and astrophysics during some terms, I also began intensively to occupy myself with planetology and meteoritic sciences. An all-round interested amateur astronomer and enthusiastic observer I was already for a long time. But who could guess that my special interest in meteorite fall events and their stony testimonials or rather the fire meteors itsself will some day make me to a professional in meteoritics.
When I experienced one bolide of the Leonids meteor stream in 1996 whose trajectory remained ionized more than 40 minutes and then was blown over by the wind, there my interest was large, whether this maybe was a meteorite fall. But nobody could help me. Was I perhaps the only witness? In consequence of this arousing event I found first contact to the Arbeitskreis Meteore e.V. (A German meteor society) and to the German Fireball Network of DLR (German Aeronautics and Space Agency). Here I quickly noticed that there were some ambitious observers, but no genuine professional searcher for possible meteorites as a result of such a spectacular fire meteor.
Sure, there were on the other hand experts for meteorites, curators of museum collections and a small community of collectors for shockingly expensive stones from outer space. But nobody was searching for or even had the intention to want to search for. Unless at least one stone was somewhere in a garden has been found or was broken up in the garret of a house. But any ambitious dawn of an interested person seemed to expire shortly by absence of time or patience, because nothing was found. Typical finders were for instance the respective uninformed inhabitants of a house, which was hit by a meteorite or the coincidental finding gardener in the country.
Also nobody really seemed to want to know what a random witness of the sky event has to report. It was uninterestingly because these reports were much too inaccurately, according to the conventional opinion of the experts. One rather relied on data, which were empirically measured and were evaluable, even if this mostly meant that often the event had to be observed from a distance of more than 100 km. As soon as the weather permitted, the meteor events, which persist for seconds, was recorded more or less well on a time exposure. The abstract-looking little black line on the negative should reveal more than a witness on the spot? How many times the fireball network was actually chasing after a meteorite event without finding, without success? How many times the rare event happened, and the network was at that time of day out of action?
Definitely, in my opinion, there was more potential in it!
If you asked an astronomer, a physicist or a meteorite specialist, what a meteor is then you got a good explanation. But already the question regarding bolides or even an event that meteorites let fall from the sky got no clear answer. In this respect the knowledge of that scientists was so vague and imprecise that it stimulated me to collect this information by myself as accurately as possible. Probably in similar way it happens to Ernst F.F. Chladni in 1794 when he was helping to bring to life the meteoritic sciences. There were hard years, but step-by-step I understood what it takes and what observations one could do as a witness on location. Even the question was only: what can the observer perceive consciously in that short time and is the astonished witness also able to describe correctly the amazing observation?
Still much harder were the first years of searching for meteorites. Everyone told me: go into the desert in order to looking for meteorites. But there I did not want to go nevertheless at all. I visited locations of old meteorite falls in Europe. Not one meteorite I found there. One fine day even I threw a black golf ball into the Brandenburgian countryside and then afterwards I could not find it again. It took days for doing! But the amazing thing is that you are developing a sense for the nature itself. What can go on in nature? How fast are the transformations? What belongs here, and what should not be on this place? What can I achieve with my acting? And even when you are on your way searching for meteorites then you have much time to ask questions to yourself and to find new solutions.
Most professional scientists do not take the amateurs very seriously, but those have an invaluable quality - their passion! The term „amateur“ comes from the Latin word for love. Amateurs love their mission! In this sense, as a professional I still would like to preserve this passion of the amateur for myself.
My motivation today:
The successful are certainly so successful because they do things which the less successful do not. (Georges Simenon)
In any case I am always on my way to next meteorite finding. Hopefully the way to get there is not too long.
Thomas W. Grau
Bernau bei Berlin (Germany) in August 2008