The Aquarius Project

The Aquarius Project | Adler Planetarium | Field Museum | Shedd Aquarium | NASA

Adler Teams Up With Museum Campus Partners and NASA to Hunt for Sunken Meteorite

On Monday, February 6, 2017, at approximately 1:30 am CST, a 600-pound meteorite streaked through the Midwest sky and landed in Lake Michigan, around 10 miles off the coast of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

Later that day, Adler astronomers began an email conversation regarding the news, including the possibility of retrieving fragments of the meteorite at the bottom of the lake using a robotic device.

While seemingly far-fetched, the thought sparked the interest of Chris Bresky, Adler’s Teen Programs Specialist, who couldn’t shake the idea. Could something like this really work? The possibility was too good to pass up.

The Aquarius Project - Teens Test ROV Sled

Chris Bresky and Adler teens test first iteration of ROV sled.

About The Project

The Aquarius Project is a teen-driven underwater ROV meteorite hunt led by scientists from the Adler Planetarium’s Far Horizons program, and experts from the Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, and NASA.

Open Explorer

Follow the journey with Adler teens as they blog about their experiences participating in The Aquarius Project on Open Explorer, a digital field journal.

#AquariusProject

Watch the hashtag #AquariusProject to stay up to date with the project on social media. Follow along on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

The Aquarius Project | Adler Planetarium | Field Museum | Shedd Aquarium | NASA

Why The Aquarius Project?

Where to begin?

The project is the first of its kind in many ways. To start, all three institutions that call Museum Campus home are working together like they never have before. Each institution brings its own unique perspective and skills to the project. From astronomers to geologists to sea-floor experts (and even a NASA researcher!), no one part of the team can do its job without the others.

Secondly, the project is teen-driven. Guided by scientists from the Adler’s Far Horizons program, Chicago-area teens are designing and testing equipment they hope will catch meteorite fragments on the lake floor. They’re a part of active scientific exploration, working closely with scientists and engineers, rolling up their sleeves to build something completely new that may lead to some awesome discoveries. (Follow their journey on Open Explorer!)

And finally, searching for meteorites underwater has never been done before—there’s no precedent for hunting or retrieval. Layer on the fact that the lake floor of Lake Michigan has never been properly mapped and you’ve got a crazy scientific puzzle just begging scientists to fit the pieces together.

In the end, maybe no meteorite fragments will be found. It’s a shot in the dark. And that’s okay. Because The Aquarius Project is about more than just finding pieces of outer space on the lake floor. It’s about the journey; it’s about how Chicago teens and three of the city’s leading scientific institutions came together to do something no one has ever done before. It’s about collaboration. Innovation. And all the little discoveries in between.

Follow The Aquarius Project on the Adler’s website, as well as social media using hashtag #AquariusProject.

The Aquarius Project | Adler Planetarium | Field Museum | Shedd Aquarium | NASA

Project Timeline

Monday, February 6, 2017
Approx. 1:25 am CST
A 600-pound meteorite streaked through the Midwest sky, landing in Lake Michigan, approximately 10 miles off the coast of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

March 2017
The Adler Planetarium’s Far Horizons program teams up with partners from the Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, and NASA to search for the meteorite in an unprecedented collaboration across all Museum Campus institutions.

May 2017
NASA research scientist, Dr. Marc Fries, confirms 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,” giving hope that fragments of the meteorite could be discovered on the lake floor.

June 21, 2017
First Magnetic Underwater Meteorite Sled (MUMS Jr.) model sled test with Adler and Shedd teens leading the charge. After viewing the test footage, they realized that stronger magnets were needed to retrieve objects with such low ferrous metal content. The magnets did, however, pick up a large amount of metal fill that was used in the creation of the beach and park (probably from the steel mills). The team also considered how meteorites would be collected after they were attracted to the magnet as they seemed to fall off once they were dragged along the bottom for an extended period of time.

July 16, 2017
Second MUMS Jr. test with teens after careful modifications from findings of the previous test, including a bumper to prevent fragments of the meteorite from being knocked off the magnet by large rocks and to prevent large objects from damaging the magnets.

August 15, 2017
First open water test with MUMS Sr. (sled iteration #2) in Lake Michigan in 15ft of water. Discovered that when lowered into the water, MUMS Sr. flips upside down before it reaches the lake floor and when successfully lowered, has a tendency to “fly” rather than stay flush against the lake floor.

Saturday, August 5, 2017
Adler Planetarium summer teen interns shared their work on The Aquarius Project at the Chicago Southside Mini Maker Faire. They even challenged participants to design and engineer their own magnetic underwater meteorite retrieval sleds, which were then tested in Daley College’s pool.

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Teens from The Field Museum’s Youth Council hosted teens from the Adler Planetarium’s Stratonauts Program and Shedd Aquarium’s ROV Team from Brother Rice High School. Participants met teens from across Chicago and worked together on design challenges inspired by The Aquarius Project.  The teams met the scientists involved, including Skyping with NASA Scientist Dr. Marc Fries. Each institutions’ group was inspired to tackle an individual element of the project and is working to collaborate digitally on their work in the future.