News Stories

Duck, it's a Meteor!

Around midnight near Chicago on March 26, 2003, Steven Simon and Lawrence Grossman were woken up by a 2,000 pound meteor crashing nearby. Noe Garza was asleep when a piece of it burst through his ceiling, bounced across the room and broke a mirror. "I thought somebody was breaking in," he says. "It was a big bang. I can't really describe it." Another resident whose home was hit says he thought a plane had crashed.

Robert Roy Britt writes in space.com that Simon and Grossman, both scientists at the University of Chicago, decided to investigate the event. The meteor was seen in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Missouri. Simon and Grossman collected pieces of the rock, as well as eyewitness accounts, in order to determine its size and speed.

Simon says, "It hit the atmosphere at about 40,000 mph. At this great speed, air pressure builds up in front of the object and is much greater than the pressure behind it. This will pull apart many meteors, especially if they already had some cracks. This object probably went though four fragmentation events as it passed through the atmosphere."

They collected 65 pounds of fragments that they used to estimate the meteor's size and weight. They knew some of the fragments must have broken up into tiny particles that weren't found. They also determined the size by analyzing the fragments for cobalt. Simon says, "If the object is too small, the cosmic rays will just pass through and not make 60 cobalt." They eventually decided the meteor weighed at least 1,980 pounds when it entered the atmosphere.

Surprisingly, there is no record of anyone being killed by a meteor, although a dog was killed by one in Egypt in 1911. A meteor injured three people in India last September. Simon is amazed that no one was injured in Chicago. He says, "This is the most densely populated region to be hit by a meteorite shower in modern times."

When it comes to searching for mysteries, some people look up, but others look down and even search underwater.

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