SALINA — Having grown up in Kansas, Steve Arnold was thrilled to have unearthed one of the largest meteorites ever recorded — a 1,430-pound rock named the Brenham meteorite, after a Kiowa County township between Greensburg and Haviland.
"Before that day, I had been a meteorite hunter, dealer and broker," said Arnold, who was born in Wichita, grew up in Russell and Fort Scott and now lives in northwest Arkansas. "The day I dug that up, my life changed. I went from doing this part time to becoming a professional meteorite hunter."
The media interest created by Arnold's discovery led to magazine articles, television appearances and eventually his own reality television series, "Meteorite Men." The show airs on the Science Channel.
In the show, Arnold and co-star Geoffrey Notkin, a London-based science writer and meteorite specialist, search the world for meteorites and remnants of meteorites. The duo utilize giant metal detectors and cutting-edge technology to uncover space treasures that sometimes have been buried for centuries in plowed fields, forests, rolling hillsides, abandoned farms and unmarked dirt roads.
For the pilot episode, filmed in fall 2008, Arnold and Notkin brought their film crew back to Brenham to search for meteorites. The pilot episode premiered May 10, 2009, to critical and popular acclaim.
For the second season, which began in November, the duo expanded their meteor search from the U.S. to other parts of the world, including Chile, Australia and Sweden.
An episode featuring a meteor search in Sweden premiered recently.
Visiting Sweden has special meaning for Arnold. His father grew up in Lindsborg, known as Little Sweden, and his grandmother was a full-blooded Swede.
"I used to visit there quite often, and I remember my grandmother doing a lot of Swedish traditions at Christmas," he said. "I still have family there, so I have a real attachment to this week's episode."
During the episode, Arnold and Notkin travel north near the Arctic Circle to search for Muonionalusta meteorites, thought to be more than 800,000 years old.
"They're very old and almost solid iron," Arnold said.
While "Meteorite Men" has a scientific and historical content, Arnold said, it's also meant to be a lighthearted and entertaining television show.
"The production team goes through a lot of footage to make the show entertaining," he said. "Sometimes they have hours and hours of nothing because sometimes we can go six weeks without finding a meteorite. And it also helps that Geoffrey and I are polar opposite personalities.
"He's more articulate in science, and I'm more the get out there and do the hard work type of guy. What draws us together is we both have a passion for finding meteorites."
Arnold first became fascinated with meteorites in 1992, while looking at books on metal detectors to search for buried treasures. He came across a story about a woman from Greensburg who in 1890 discovered a meteorite and sold it for a nice profit.
"I thought if this lady sold a meteorite 100 years ago, then meteorites would be worth money now," Arnold said.
Arnold also was astonished to discover that Kansas — specifically the area around Brenham — contained more fallen meteorites per square mile than anywhere else in the U.S.
"The area where I found the Brenham meteorite was across the street from where this lady lived 100 years ago," he said.
Since 1992, Arnold has made a career of selling, trading and brokering meteorites, as well as working with prominent museum curators, scientists and private collectors to enhance their meteorite collections.
"Each meteorite has its own story — how it was formed in space and what it is composed of, and how the laws of physics determine how they fall," Arnold said. "Some fall whole and others are spread out over miles."
After previously appearing with Notkin on meteorite-hunting specials on PBS, Discovery Channel, History Channel and the Travel Channel, the success of the "Meteorite Men" series has been a pleasant surprise to Arnold, who never envisioned himself a television star.
"I was a football player in high school," he said. "If I had known I would have my own series someday, I would have taken more drama classes."