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 Sandra Macika, Todd Slisher, Tony Licata and Brian Wolf, a meteorite search crew, display their finds at Licata’s family’s lake cottage Jan. 18 in Hamburg Township.

Sandra Macika, Todd Slisher, Tony Licata and Brian Wolf, a meteorite search crew, display their finds at Licata’s family’s lake cottage Jan. 18 in Hamburg Township.

Photo provided by Jenny Pon

Farmington man helps discover meteorite pieces

By: Tiffany Esshaki, Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published January 23, 2018

 Lined up are meteorite pieces that the search crew found.

Lined up are meteorite pieces that the search crew found.

Photo provided by Jenny Pon

 A found meteorite piece rests in the snow.

A found meteorite piece rests in the snow.

Photo provided by Jenny Pon

FARMINGTON HILLS — Farmington resident Tony Licata not only heard and saw the big “boom” that turned out to be a meteor the evening of Jan. 16, but he helped find meteorite fragments days later.

Licata, a member of Farmington Community Stargazers, said in a recent phone interview that he and several others visited lakes in the area of Hamburg Township — in the path of the meteor — and found some of the fragments the evening of Jan. 18.

“I was in the path that was plotted by NASA in Hamburg Township,” he said, adding that he is part of a team of people who searched lakes in that area — and they are choosing not to divulge at which lake they found the fragments. “We found it on one of those lakes in the area of the meteor fall. We want to send these out for study.”

The  Farmington Community Stargazers have star parties at Heritage Park in Farmington Hills, and they regularly meet at the Farmington Community Library. The group formed in 2015 after a local instructor gave a slide presentation on the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope launch. 

Adult Services Librarian Judy Donlin said the Farmington Community Stargazers had planned — even before knowing about the meteor — to host a meeting about meteorites at the library in February.

“This is really a great coincidence,” she said, adding that Licata is giving the talk.

A program on meteorites is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Farmington Community Library Main Branch, 32737 W. 12 Mile Road.

She added that upon hearing that someone had found a meteorite, she suspected the Stargazers might be involved.

“Because they had a very detailed NASA map; because they knew exactly where to look,” she said. “I am just really thrilled for them.”

Licata said that when he tells people of his find, their reactions range from disbelief to “of course you found one” — if they know him.

He added that Todd Slisher, executive director of the Flint-based Longway Planetarium and Sloan Museum, triangulated where the meteor had passed over metro Detroit based on shadows shown in security camera footage of his backyard.

 “So we kind of followed that track, and (that) led us to a certain spot where we picked (up meteorite) debris,” he said. “These are fresh fragments from that meteorite or meteoroid” — as it is traveling in air, it is still a meteoroid — “from that fireball that was over the Detroit area on Jan. 16.”

Licata said the team knows that what they collected are “fresh fragments,” because the rocks were sitting on top of the ice.

“We know there are no rocks sitting on top of the middle of the lake,” he said, adding that on Jan. 19 he planned to speak about his findings at a press conference at the planetarium. “We’ll display the rocks and decide as a group when we’re going to send them off — I think I want to keep mine for a couple more days.”

When the meteor tore across the sky Jan. 16 and broke apart with a boom, some people thought a house might have exploded, and others speculated that it was something more threatening, like perhaps a missile. But Lt. Mike Shaw, of the Michigan State Police, confirmed that the incident was the work of a meteor.

“We’re getting reports all the way from Lansing to Chicago,” said Shaw of the bright light seen streaking through the sky just after 8 p.m. “It seems the meteor broke up in the atmosphere.”

The U.S. Geological Survey’s equipment registered a 2.0-magnitude earthquake about 8 kilometers southwest of New Haven. It’s believed that that’s where meteorites might have struck the ground.

Licata said that his find was “exciting.”

“I remember seeing the flash — I was way up north in my cottage,” where he has an observatory, he said, adding that he was collecting data for a comet star when it happened. “I stepped outside to check the temperature … (when) I saw a flash. I didn’t know what it was and thought nothing of it. About an hour later, I read reports online.”

Days after his initial find, he and others went back to the lake in Hamburg Township and found tiny meteorites.

“We did pick up a few micrometeorites on our magnet — very tiny meteorites,” he said.

For more information on the Stargazers, go to gazers or email