A NJ house hit by a meteorite?

Contributed by
Jan 3, 2007

On Tuesday night, an apparent meteor fell through the roof of a New Jersey house. At that link there is a video which shows the object. I will admit, it really does look like a metal meteorite to me. I can't say for sure, of course, but the shape and markings look like the real thing:

It evidently fell at a high speed, crashing through several layers of building material. It is very dense, and shiny. I am surprised there is nothing in the video about it being attracted by a magnet. That would be interesting to know, since metal meteorites are strongly attracted to a magnet.

The video has the usual dumb interviews, of course, this being local news. One guy says it might be something the government is covering up. Sigh.

At the end, the newscasters wonder if it could be associated with a meteor shower. The annual Quadrantrids do peak around now, but meteor showers (except for one, the Geminids) are associated with comets, and comets don't have metals in them. Just rocks, ice, and so on.

Now, I don't want to make too broad a statement there. Some objects have both asteroidal and comet-like features, and it's certainly possible that some comets might have metals in them. But it's difficult to believe that a chunk like this object that hit the house could come from a comet. It does go against almost everything we know about comets. I won't say it's impossible, but it's extremely unlikely.

Also, it's unclear when the object hit, but it sounds from the report like it was in the early evening, which is also inconsistent with it being from the shower: due to the orbital geometry, an impact would only happen at night, and most likely after local midnight. That's because the Earth plows into meteoroid swarms, and so you see more meteors from the part of the Earth facing into the direction it's traveling. It's like driving through the rain: more drops hit your front windshield than your back one. In the case of the Earth, the part facing into the orbital direction (and where it's dark enough to see meteors) is the part experiencing a time after midnight.This NJ object hit too early to be part of the meteor shower. Oops-- that was a mistake on my part, as a commenter pointed out.

If this thing turns out to be meteorite, it's most likely a sporadic one, a random bit of metal from an asteroid that broke up. It may have orbited the Sun countless times, for billions of years, only to have the Earth get in its way on a Tuesday evening. I collect meteorites, and when I look at them I marvel at their age and their history. It's one of the only aspects of astronomy you can literally hold in your hand.

I'll keep my ears open for more information on this. It's very rare for such cases to be the real thing, but this one seems more legitimate than any I have heard in a while.

Tip o' the Whipple shield to Fark.com.

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