[meteorite-list] Wanted: Space Rock That Fell To Earth, Stunning East Coast
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 09:43:34 2004
Wanted: Space rock that fell to Earth, stunning East Coast
By Faye Flam
The Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
July 25, 2001
If you go in your backyard and happen to find a piece of that space rock
that dazzled people up and down the East Coast, you can take it to the bank.
The meteor, perhaps as large as a car, blazed through the sky around 6:30
p.m. Monday. It was a rare meteor - visible in daylight, particularly along
the populous East Coast.
No hint of the meteorite, possibly worth thousands of dollars, has been
uncovered, although there is indeed a scorched cornfield near Pennsylvania's
Grand Canyon - most likely a coincidence, according to scientists. Still, it
could be out there, perhaps fragmented into pebbles and dust, somewhere in
Pennsylvania or Upstate New York.
Hundreds of people reported seeing the meteor, as far north as Lake Ontario
and as far south as Virginia. Most said it appeared as an orange or red
fireball, lasting just a second or two. Some also reported sonic booms.
Few meteors - they are called meteors in the sky, meteorites on the ground -
carry the heft to show up in broad daylight, said David Meisel, executive
director of the American Meteor Society and an astronomy professor at the
State University of New York. But rocks from space do hit Earth fairly
"The military have surveillance satellites that see these about once every
two weeks," Meisel said. Most streak past underpopulated areas or in the wee
hours, when few people see them.
Monday's, by contrast, came during the evening rush hour in the populous
northeastern United States. And, said Geoff Chester, a spokesman for the
U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, it must have been a relatively big one
- somewhere between suitcase-size and automobile-size - that most likely
broke off one of the thousands of asteroids that orbit the planet,
periodically colliding with each other and spraying debris.
When meteors come close to Earth, observers may describe them as anything
from fireballs to alien spaceships. Sometimes they are noisy, since any
flying object, no matter the size, can produce a sonic boom if it is
traveling faster than the speed of sound.
Police emergency lines light up with reports.
"It was the size of a volleyball, not perfectly round, and a faded red,"
said Delores Brannen of Warrington Township, Bucks County. She was commuting
home from her job at AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical company near King of
The fast-moving traffic on Route 309 started to slow, she said, as drivers
"At first, we thought it was an airplane crash," said Patty Mains,
public-information officer for Chester County. Callers reported seeing a
fireball in the sky or a glow with a large trail, she said.
In north-central Pennsylvania, near Williamsport, Lycoming County officials
recorded more than 300 calls - and a possible hit to a cornfield - said Les
Gruver, emergency management coordinator. There, the event came with sonic
"I don't think there was anybody in this valley who didn't hear that, unless
you were deaf," said Jason Fox, assistant chief of Larry's Creek Volunteer
Fire Company in Salladasburg.
Fox, who had been stretched out on a couch at home, had to check out the
cornfield in neighboring Anthony Township, near Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon.
He found a 20-by-50-foot patch of wilted corn, covered with gray dust and
pierced with shotgun-pellet-size holes.
Galene Schoch, who rents a farmhouse near the site, said she heard a sonic
boom that shook the house and saw a flash of light. Later, she saw the
damaged corn stalks.
Tests at the site are pending. But scientists said meteors almost always
cool down by the time they reach Earth. They are unlikely to burn the ground
unless volatile gas is released.
"The rocks are not on fire when they land," Chester explained. Air
resistance actually slows them, he said, so they are no longer hot when they
Monday night's rock, if it didn't fragment into tiny pieces, would look
charred on the outside, while the interior would show a much lighter color,
perhaps with flecks of metal, said Tim McCoy, curator in charge of
meteorites at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington.
In some past meteorite touchdowns, scientists have found the landing spot by
comparing witness accounts, noting the locations and directions, and
triangulating. In this case, however, the fireball appeared so briefly -
between one and two seconds - that it was hard for witnesses to even see
which way it was going.
The Meteor Society's Meisel said that military satellites may be able to get
a bearing on the rock's path. These are the so-called Vela satellites, built
to track possible nuclear explosions.
But the military is not talking. "Their phones were jammed all day," Meisel
Astronomers say the sighting was not connected to the Perseid meteor shower,
an annual mid-August event. At that time, the Earth moves through a trail of
debris left by a comet; the pieces, each about the size of a grain of sand,
can produce a flurry of bright streaks.
If you find a space rock on your land, generally it's yours: Meteorites
belong to the owner of the property on which they fall. Most sell for around
$2.50 a gram (nearly $75 an ounce), but some fetch hundreds of times that
amount. (Rocks from Mars are higher.)
They are almost always valuable to science, McCoy said, not only because
they bring samples from space but also because most of them are older than
any rock on Earth. Most meteorites formed around 4.5 billion years ago,
shortly after the solar system was born, and can therefore help scientists
better understand how the sun and planets formed.
In recent decades, several meteors have crashed into people's houses and, in
one case, an old car. In 1992, a 22-pound rock hit a Chevrolet Malibu in
Peekskill, N.Y. The car was reportedly totaled, but the owner got $100,000
for its remains from a Japanese science museum - and $60,000 for the space
Received on Wed 25 Jul 2001 11:55:03 AM PDT