[meteorite-list] Search On For Streaking Object

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 09:43:34 2004
Message-ID: <200107251623.JAA09482_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Search on for streaking object

Meteor? Satellite? UFO? Experts hunt for evidence of fireball over

Of The Morning Call (Pennsylvania)
July 25, 2001

It's a case worthy of Fox Mulder and "The X-Files."

It's clear something major streaked across the sky in the Northeast just
before 6:30 p.m. Monday. Hundreds of thousands of people, maybe more, saw
and heard it.

But what was the mysterious space object? And where did it land, if it
landed at all?

Tuesday, the search was on.

In Salladasburg, Lycoming County, population 302, where witnesses not only
saw the object flash but heard two sonic booms, the media and the curious
converged on a farmer's field where volunteer firefighters Monday night
found a swath of curiously flattened and apparently singed corn.

In Schuylkill County, where some residents reported they thought a plane
crashed and burned, emergency workers found no plane wreck and discounted
theories that brush fires in North Union Township and outside Tamaqua
shortly after the sighting were related to the object.

In Geneseo, N.Y., the American Meteor Society, made up of amateur and
professional astronomers who track the momentarily bright, moving objects,
scrambled to compile sighting reports from up and down the East Coast,
calling what was seen "a significant fireball."

And the man some call the Indiana Jones of meteorite hunting, Robert Haag of
Tucson, Ariz., was ready to hop a plane just as soon as a confirmed report
of a landing site surfaced.

"This is exciting. It's brand-new samples from deep space," said Haag, who
scours the Earth for fragments of meteorites -- the name given to meteors
once they hit Earth -- which he then sells to collectors.

"Any meteorite that falls is worth at least its weight in silver and,
depending on the type, it can be worth more than gold," he said.

Still, in the absence of direct evidence of what fell, more questions than
answers surfaced.

Although several organizations track meteorites and space debris while
they're in the sky, no one group is responsible for tracking them when they
hit the ground.

"It's a free-for-all. People interview people and try to be the first to
find it," said Ray Harris, a Lower Macungie Township amateur astronomer with
an interest in meteors.

Initially, scientists said Monday's sightings were part of a meteor shower.
But by Tuesday, astronomers had concluded that was probably not the case.
That's because major meteor showers tend to happen during predictable times,
and none coincided with what was seen.

Instead, experts were calling the phenomenon a bolide or fireball, a large
meteor, or chunk of space rock, that broke up as it passed through the
Earth's atmosphere.

John Carrico, an astrodynamics specialist for Analytical Graphics Inc. near
Malvern, said the phenomenon also could have been a falling piece of
man-made space junk. The company makes computer software to help satellite
owners avoid space debris.

Carrico said the U.S. Space Command, part of the Department of Defense,
monitors more than 8,000 pieces of debris in orbit around Earth -- in part,
to watch out for enemy missiles.

The command monitors objects down to about 5 inches across, but something
smaller -- say a bolt that fell off a satellite -- would not be tracked, he

Carrico doubted that the object was a falling satellite because NASA
officials follow satellites carefully.

"They make announcements when and where something is going to come down. The
fact that there was no announcement means there probably is a good chance
it's not a satellite - although there's a chance it was space junk," he

"Just thinking about it, I would say it's probably natural."

If the object was a large meteor, it's likely it came from the asteroid belt
between Mars and Jupiter, said Gary Becker, director of the Allentown School
District's planetarium at Dieruff High School.

The belt contains solid material from when the solar system formed that did
not become part of a planet.

"This has probably been in a collision course for billions of years and it
just now hit us," Becker said.

He noted that most meteorites are "no larger than a grain of sand" and
disintegrate before they hit Earth.

Becker said the difference between a meteorite and a fireball is size and
brightness -- a fireball appears at least as bright as the planet Venus.

A bolide, he said, is a fireball that produces noise caused by sound waves
made as the object travels at high speed through the atmosphere.

Many observers in northeast Pennsylvania reported hearing booms or
thunder-like rolling sounds.

According to James Richardson, coordinator of the meteor society's Fireball
Monitoring Program, even fireballs are not that unusual.

>From the beginning of this year through July 15, "we have received 90 usable
fireball reports, describing 75 separate events," he said.

All the events were seen by more than one witness and happened over North
America. Three were seen over Pennsylvania.

Richardson urged people who saw Monday's event to contact the society
through its Web site, www.amsmeteors.org.

Meteorite expert Ron Baalke, director of the Near-Earth Objects Program at
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said Tuesday it's
difficult to determine how big the object was from descriptions of a
fireball. This program tracks large natural objects in orbit around the sun.

"It depends on the composition and the speed it was traveling. It could
have been as small as a baseball," he said, noting that sonic booms mean an
object is close.

He said perhaps fragments could be found in upstate Pennsylvania or near the
New York border because booms were heard there.

For A.J. Edkin, that possibility didn't come as news. Safety officer for the
Larry's Creek Volunteer Fire Company, the 56-year-old woman was having
coffee at the neighborhood hangout, Speedy's in Salladasburg, when she
heard two loud booms.

Soon people began streaming down the street talking about what they had

Edkin spent the rest of the night taking phone calls about the event, and by
early this morning, three media trucks equipped with satellite dishes were
parked in the fire company's parking lot and someone claiming to be from an
international UFO-watching group had shown up asking for directions.

Edkin said firefighters went to four locations and about 7:40 p.m. found
flattened corn in an area about 25 yards by 50 yards. The field is off Route
973 in Anthony Township, about 4 miles east of Salladasburg, Edkin said.

Fire officials said the ground in the area was "perforated with small
shotgun-sized holes" and "scorched with intense heat." Some corn plants had
singed edges, Edkin said.

Because of a great deal of dust in the area, state Department of
Environmental Protection staffers were dispatched there from Williamsport
with air-quality monitoring equipment, Edkin said. She said they found no
threat to human health, a concern because volunteers had been walking
through the area.

Edkin said the sound "shook the ground" and then "rumbled like thunder."

"I thought, holy cow, it had to be low," she said, adding that she'd heard
reports from fellow firefighters that pictures had fallen off walls at their

But when, and if, debris turns up, Haag will leave Tucson to be there.

"Something this big, something made it to the ground somewhere," he
declared, adding that once he has a landing point, "I will go and be camping
out in the middle of it for weeks, and setting up reward things for people
to come forward, and making offers to buy.

"What I need is one authentic piece to show up somewhere," he added, noting
that, in meteorite prospecting, being off by a mile is like being off by

Usually it takes people a while to figure out where something has landed, he

"Mother Nature will show you. It may take a couple of days, but something
will show up."

In other words, Mulder, the truth is out there.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Received on Wed 25 Jul 2001 12:23:37 PM PDT

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