Meteorite Men Star Turns Dream into Career

Almost every kid dreams of finding buried treasure, but few actually grow up to make that dream a reality. Steve Arnold of the Science Channel's Meteorite Men did just that using little more than a basic metal detector, some imagination, and a boatload of perseverance.

Treasure Hunting in the Desert Southwest

His career as a meteorite hunter, Arnold told me, all started back in 1992, when he read a book about metal-detecting. He took his metal detector and began searching for historic artifacts from the days of the old west. Unfortunately, he says, Oklahoma was a pretty quiet place as far as non-Native American settlers were concerned until very recently and there wasn't much to find.

Steve Arnold Redefines Treasure

Instead of giving up, Arnold decided to look into treasure hunting in Kansas where he grew up. He says he read that 100 years earlier, a woman had discovered a meteorite and sold it to the University of Kansas for what was a very tidy sum at the time. Well, he thought, meteorites have metal in them, so why can't he find them with his metal detector? As it turns out, he could. Instead of metallic artifacts from the old west, space rocks became his treasure hunting goal.

Research Leads Meteorite men Star to Strewnfields

When a large meteor streaks through the atmosphere, it generally breaks apart scattering a group of meteorites over an area called a strewnfield. Depending upon the size and nature of the original space rock, there may be hundreds or thousands of small meteorites to be found for any given meteor. Knowing this, Arnold headed out with his metal detector to search places where meteorites had already been found. Most strewnfields, he reckoned, would have been searched only superficially and there would still be meteorites left to find.

Meteorite Hunting as a Money-making Hobby

He was right again. For 13 years, Arnold found, traded, bought and sold meteorites as money-making hobby. He learned to identify meteorites and made it known that he would identify and even purchase genuine meteorites from anyone who happened to find them. By leveraging the public, he was able to acquire many more meteorites than any single person could find alone.

Meteorite Man Finds the Mother Lode

Then, in 2005, Arnold found the mother lode. While searching a well-known meteorite impact site called Brenham, located near Haviland, Kansas, Steve discovered what was, and still remains, the single largest intact pallasite meteorite ever discovered in North America. The stony-iron meteorite weighed in at an incredible 1430 pounds. Pallasite meteorites contain small crystals of the gemstone peridot.

Kansas Farmer Gets a Piece of the Action

Arnold's Brenham meteorite was seven and a half feet below the surface of Kansas farmland, so it took more than just a basic metal detector. Before he could even begin looking, Arnold had to negotiate with the land-owner for permission to search the area, which, of course, involved an exchange of cash and a profit-sharing agreement. With that permission in hand, Arnold and a partner invested in specialized equipment capable of finding metal deep in the ground and required the use of a backhoe to dig the meteorite out of the ground.

Brenham Meteorite Makes Arnold a Meteorite Man

After Arnold's record-breaking Brenham meteorite find, he says, he became a full-time meteorite hunter. Arnold characterizes meteorite hunting as "brutal, exhausting work," but, he says, the memory of the hard work fades over time, while the memories and excitement of finding a space rock that is as old as anything in the solar system stay with him.

Meteorite Hunting Fame Lands Arnold a TV Show

Arnold's meteorite hunting career took another turn when a television producer read about him in the LA Times and decided that his meteorite knowledge and exploits would make good TV. "I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd be on TV," Arnold says, but the show "gives us the opportunity to share what we do with the world. Hopefully, people enjoy it and learn a little bit about meteorites along the way." The second season of Meteorite Men featuring Steve Arnold and his partner, Geoff Notkin, can be seen Tuesday nights at 9:00 p.m. on the Science Channel. Based on the ratings of the final season two episodes, Arnold says, "we hope to hear whether we get a third season in early January." Meanwhile, new fans can watch a Meteorite Men marathon on the Science Channel running on Friday, December 24th from noon until 7:00 p.m.