[meteorite-list] Meteorite Falls in Berthoud, Colorado

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Mon Oct 18 18:06:09 2004
Message-ID: <200410182133.OAA00387_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Celebrity falls from the sky

Meteorite shines instant spotlight on Berthoud family

The Coloradoan
October 18, 2004

THE LANDING SITE: John Whiteis moves a board to reveal a small crater
left after a meteorite landed outside their home on Oct. 5. Whiteis, his
wife, Megan, left, and her son Casper witnessed the meteorite fall from
the sky, and the onslaught of attention that followed.

Rich Abrahamson/The Coloradoan

TWO-POUND METEORITE: Scott Palo, an assistant professor with the
University of Colorado's aerospace engineering sciences department,
holds a two-pound meteorite as volunteers and researchers comb a field
near where the meteorite landed outside a farm house just east of
Berthoud along Highway 56. The search was held Saturday.

Until recently, the oldest antique John and Megan Whiteis owned was an
18th-century medicine chest from Korea.

Now they have something much older.

On Oct. 5, a two-pound, 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite slammed into the
earth in a horse pasture behind the Whiteis' five-level Berthoud farmhouse.

Now, after nearly two weeks, the Whiteis' life is still turned a bit
upside-down by the softball-sized chunk of space debris.

"Neither of us has been to work in two weeks," Megan Whiteis said. "It's
been really crazy."

John Whiteis said they've been getting a lot of attention and the phone
has been ringing off the hook since they found the meteorite. Megan
Whiteis said she spends a lot of her day on the phone trying to figure
out where the meteorite will be sent for testing and talking to
researchers, press and people interested in buying the meteorite --
something the Whiteises said is out of the question.

Despite the disruption it has caused in their day-to-day lives and their
desire to get back to some kind of routine, the Whiteises said they
wouldn't change anything.

"I'm still really glad it happened," Megan Whiteis said. "But I'll be
glad when the media attention dies down. This is definitely a first, and
my thought is that it's going to be the last."

John Whiteis said he jokingly refers to the meteorite as space gold and
even thought about composing a song about it similar to the "Beverly
Hillbillies" theme.

"I'm thinking about getting my shovel and digging down in that crater as
far as I can," he said. "Maybe it (the crater) is the marker for the
fountain of youth."

Maybe they're not that lucky, but the Whiteises said they're real lucky
they saw the meteorite land.

John and Megan Whiteis, along with her 19-year-old son, Casper, were
walking out to the car on Oct. 5 when they heard a "whooshing" sound and
saw a flash travel across the sky. She said it was unusual that all
three of them were together at the same time and all going the same
direction through the door.

John Whiteis said it was perfectly quiet outside, which was unusual
considering the house sits just off a state highway and is in a
regularly used airplane flight pattern.

"We have planes going over every 15 minutes or so," he said.

He said he originally thought the debris had come loose from a passing
airplane, but there wasn't one in the sky.

Scientists think the Whiteis' meteorite might be part of a larger one
that broke up in the Earth's atmosphere. Saturday, about 50 volunteers
and researchers combed a 11/2-square mile cornfield across the highway
from the Whiteis' house for other pieces.

Scott Palo, an assistant professor with the aerospace engineering
sciences department at the University of Colorado, said the meteorite is
only the fifth in Colorado's history to be witnessed and retrieved.

Palo said it was an exciting find not only because it has happened so
rarely in the state, but also because it was retrieved so quickly --
only about 25 minutes after impact.

He said the quick recovery would allow scientists to do tests they might
otherwise not be able to do that will give them a better indication of
where the meteorite originated. Scientists think it might have broken
off Vesta, a large asteroid in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

All scientific significance aside, Palo said it's a very exciting event.

"It's awesome," he said. "This is the material that formed the solar
system and our own planet. It's like a time machine. It lets us see back
to the creation of the solar system."

Jack Murphy, curator emeritus of the Denver Museum of Nature and
Science, participated in Saturday's search and said he had a feeling
they'd find more pieces of the meteorite.

However, the search did not yield any results.

"We walked and walked and walked and walked," he said. "And it felt like
we barely scratched the surface."

Palo said there will be more searches during the next couple of weeks,
up until the snow starts to fly. According to Palo, Fiske Planetarium at
CU will coordinate future search efforts.
Received on Mon 18 Oct 2004 05:33:40 PM PDT

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