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In 1954, a Woman Was Struck by the Sylacauga Meteorite and Lived
Ann Hodges took a sucker punch from a meteorite and lived to tell the tale.
In May of 1998, a teenager named Leo Beiderman (Elijah Wood) peered through his telescope and saw something unexpected in the night sky. The comet he discovered, later named Wolf-Beiderman, was on a collision course with Earth, and time was running out. Fortunately, through the collective efforts of people on the ground and in space, humanity survived. Even more fortunately, these are the fictitious events of the 1998 disaster film Deep Impact, streaming now on Peacock. The events described below are real, though, as far as we know.
On July 6, 2023, a French woman was out on her porch when she was struck, allegedly, by a rock from space. By her accounting, something struck the roof of her house, causing a loud noise, then a moment later a small rock fell from the roof and struck her around the middle. The story quickly made headlines, but experts weren’t so sure an extraterrestrial origin made sense.
Photos of the alleged meteorite demonstrate characteristics which shouldn’t be possible if the rock came from space. Foremost among them is a jagged, angular surface. When cutting through the atmosphere, any of those structures would have sloughed off, leaving a smooth mottled surface behind. That the rock probably came from Earth isn’t all that surprising. While we do get hit by tiny space rocks every day, the odds of being struck are astronomically (if you’ll pardon the pun) low. That said, it has definitely happened at least once.
The 1954 Sylacauga Meteorite Strike
On November 30, 1954, Ann Hodges had settled down for an afternoon nap on her sofa. Unbeknownst to her or anyone, she had an unavoidable appointment with a rock from outer space. At 12:46 local time, an 8.5 pound meteorite smashed through the roof of her home, struck a large console radio, and smacked her right in the side. The extraterrestrial attack didn’t kill her, but it did leave her with some superficial wounds and the coolest answer to the question, “How did you get that massive bruise?”
After being struck, Hodges was able to walk around and show off her new wound, but reported being unable to sleep at all that evening and went to the hospital the following day. The meteorite’s fireball was visible from the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi as it streaked through the afternoon sky. Some witnesses also reported hearing a loud explosion during entry.
The Hodges home quickly became a circus of first responders, media personnel, and lookie-loos all interested in seeing the strange rock from outer space and the woman who survived a one-on-one brawl with it. Interest in the event brought ownership of the rock into dispute, with both the Hodges and their landlord making a claim. While the landlord argued that the rock fell on their property, we think that if you get sucker punched by a space rock you should get to keep it. Ultimately, the Hodges settled with their landlord and paid a sum of $500 (roughly $5,700 in 2023 dollars) for ownership of the meteorite.
Sadly, by that time, interest had waned and they were unable to find a buyer. They held onto it for a couple of years, sometimes using it as a doorstop, before donating it to the Alabama Museum of Natural History.
A second fragment was found the following day by a nearby farmer. He sold his fragment for enough money to buy a house and a car. The fragment eventually made its way to the Smithsonian. Based on orbital paths, it’s believed that the Sylacauga meteorite, also sometimes called the Hodges meteorite, is believed to have come from the asteroid 1685 Toro. After completing closest approach with the Sun, it was headed back out into deep space when a small piece of it missed a turn and smacked into Ann Hodges instead.
While the meteorite didn’t kill her that day, it may have killed her more slowly over the course of a decade. Shortly after the impact, Hodges appeared on the cover of Life magazine and in an article titled, “A Big Bruiser From the Sky.” The national attention and the ownership dispute reportedly wreaked havoc on her health and on her marriage. She died of kidney failure at the age of 52, just 10 years after she became a household name. It turns out being punched by a meteorite might be bad luck, even if you survive the initial attack.
Catch Deep Impact, streaming now on Peacock!