News and Anecdotes

Courtesy Houghton Library, Harvard University

Divine intervention was how the German King Maximilian interpreted the 280-pound meteorite that landed near the Alsatian town of Ensisheim (above, depicted in a contemporary woodcut) in 1492; Maximilian decreed that the stone be preserved as a sign of God's wrath toward his enemies. In the same year Columbus reported "a marvelous branch of fire" that fell into the sea as he crossed the Atlantic.

Daytime meteor startles West Texans

February 12, 1947: A rain of around 70 tons of iron

This week marks the golden anniversary of what is arguably the most spectacular meteorite fall ever seen. At 10:40 a.m. on February 12, 1947, a incredibly bright fireball seared its way across the sky of eastern Siberia and rained around 70 tons of iron meteorites onto the rugged landscape. Because it was so well documented, the Sikhote-Alin fall proved a great boon to meteorite science.

The 1947 Siberian event is considered in most literature as one of the two most significant events this century where the earth has encountered objects from space. It was an iron meteorite that broke up only about 5 miles above the earth. It produced over 100 craters with the largest being around 85 feet in diameter. The strewnfield covered an area of about 1 mile by a half mile. There were no fires or similar destruction like that found at Tunguska. Shredded trees and broken branches mostly. A total of 23 tons of meteorites were recovered and it's been estimated it's total mass was around 70 tons when it broke up.

(from Sky Publishing Corporation and George Zay)

November 22, 1996: A Large Ball of Fire

Date: Sun, Dec 15, 1996 6:39 PM PST
The Associated Press
By FREDDY CUEVAS Associated Press Writer

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) -- A meteorite slammed into a sparsely populated area of Honduras last month, terrifying residents and leaving a 165-foot-wide crater, scientists confirmed Sunday.

Villagers reported seeing a fireball crash and break into small red and yellow pieces on Nov. 22 near San Luis, in the western province of Santa Barbara. But Sunday's statement was the first official word that the object was a meteorite.

Maria Cristina Pineda, a physicist from the National Autonomous University of Honduras, said Sunday that the meteorite was composed of materials that were 4 billion years old, Pineda said.

There was no word on the dimensions of the meteorite, but it was much smaller than the size of the crater. Some 50,000 years ago, a meteorite 180 feet wide smashed into northern Arizona and dug a crater 4,000 feet wide. And a 300-foot meteorite struck in Siberia in 1908, leveling trees for miles.

Residents of San Luis, 125 miles west of the capital, were terrified by the meteorite's crash, which sparked a fire that destroyed several acres of coffee plants and damaged a main highway.

"We saw a large ball of fire, with a long tail that rapidly descended from the sky and fell near San Luis, before our incredulous eyes," said Elmer Adan Rivera, a teacher from the region.

"I arrived almost immediately to the site of the explosion," said peasant Francisco Aguilar Sabillon. "There were enormous flames, and everything was destroyed. Because of that I fled from the place, frightened."

Authorities have asked those living nearby to stay away from the crash site. The meteorite did not appear to have any properties that would pose a threat to humans, they said.

October 3, 1996: Unsolved Case

part 1: A show of gold

Santa Fe Fireball
From: (Jim Cummings)
Date: 4 Oct 1996 04:50:31 GMT

Thursday Oct 3, 8:00pm Saw what appeared to be a low-altitude fireball, heading north from the plains, into the southern end of the Sangre de Cristos, just southeast of Santa Fe.

When I first saw it, it was in full glory; I don't know how much I missed. It burned brilliant green, with active, changing head and tail, for several (3-6) seconds, then disintegrated in a show of gold, into 4 or 5 smaller pieces, glowing white, spread out in a line, until they seemed to burn out, another 3-5 seconds later.

Distance is of course unknown, to me it seemed that the final shards were not far over the foothills. It seemed to be travelling as fast as a low flying airplane.

Looking for another viewer, to help confirm position and height. Any one else happen to see it?

It was surely the most thrilling 10 seconds of my five years of amateur viewing!

October 3, 1996: Unsolved Case

part 2: A bird? A plane?

A brilliant meteor seen in the skies of the western U.S. on the evening of October 3 was likely a piece of an asteroid or comet, or even a piece of space junk, astronomers said.

The meteor was seen from California to New Mexico at around 9pm PDT (4am GMT October 4). It was described by many as a long green streak bright enough to light up sky for several seconds. Hundreds of people contacted local authorities, believing the streak to be the result of a mid-air plane accident. The flash, however, took place too high to be possibly caused by a plane.

John Mosley, an astronomer at the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles, attributed the flash to a chunk of comet or asteroid material that burned up in the Earth's atmosphere. JPL officials added the possibility that the meteor was a piece of space junk reentering the Earth's atmosphere. No debris from the meteor was found on the ground.

October 3, 1996: Unsolved Case

part 3: A reward of 5000 $

The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) offers a reward of 5.000 $ for a piece weighing 100 g or more of the meteorite fallen on October 3, 1996. Some scientists say that the bolide bounced in the upper atmosphere. Loud sonic booms were heard and probably some fragments fell to the ground before the bolide returned to the space.

  • Original source ("El Universal, Venezuela):

  • October 3, 1996: Unsolved Case

    part 4: On the right track

    961101047 Caltech Seismology Lab Helps Pinpoint Location of Meteorite Fall
    Date: Fri, 25 Oct 1996 23:05:38 GMT

    PASADENA- Should anyone be inclined to do a bit of meteorite hunting this weekend for a $5,000 reward, Caltech seismologist Kate Hutton thinks she can provide some help.

    According to Hutton, any larger chunks from the meteor that lit up the Western skies on the night of Oct. 3 may have landed in the Rose Valley area near Little Lake. Hutton figured this out by analyzing data from 31 of the seismic stations belonging to the Southern California Seismographic Network (operated by Caltech and the U.S. Geological Survey). "As it fell, the atmospheric drag caused the meteroid to explode in mid-air at least twice," Hutton says. "The explosions generated sound waves in the air similar to a sonic boom, which were detected by the seismographs. Using a procedure that is very similar to the one used to locate earthquakes underground, I used the arrival times of the sound waves at the various seismic stations to estimate where the explosions occurred." Two of the explosions were well located, Hutton adds. Both were 20 to 30 miles above the Fivemile Canyon area in the eastern Sierra foothills. The explosions were separated by about 25 seconds, and the second was about five miles lower than the first and about a mile further eastward. Based on this data and on eyewitness accounts provided by John Wasson of UCLA and Mark Boslough (Ph. D. from Caltech, 1984) of Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico, Hutton thinks that any larger fragments that survived the firey entry into Earth's atmosphere would have landed to the east-northeast of the explosions, perhaps in the Rose Valley area near Little Lake. Smaller fragments may have fallen more or less straight down from where the explosions occurred.

    The Little Lake area would probably be the more seductive area to search, and for a very good reason. UCLA has offered a $5,000 reward for the first fragment that weighs at least four ounces.

    Hutton says the seismographic instruments didn't pick up a meteorite impact on Earth, but this is not surprising, since a single fragment would probably have to weigh several tons in order for its impact to be detected. The term "meteorite," by the way, refers to chunks of extraterrestrial debris that survive the entry into the atmosphere and end up on the ground. "Meteoroids" are chunks that travel through space, while "meteor" is the proper designation for the light show produced by a rock from outer space slowing down in the Earth's atmosphere.

    Any surviving meteorite fragments would probably have a fresh black matte crust. If the meteorite struck something on the ground, part of the crust might have chipped off to reveal a lighter interior. If anyone finds a meteorite fragment weighing at least four ounces, he or she should get in touch with Dr. John Wasson at UCLA. Wasson's e-mail address is

    October 3, 1996: Unsolved Case

    part 5: A year later

    Meteorite Falls From Oct 1996
    From: Ron Baalke <>
    Date: Wed, 8 Oct 1997 14:14:51 GMT

    NEWS RELEASE  OCT. 1, 1997

    Albuquerque, N.M. After a year of detective work involving scores of eyewitness reports from across New Mexico and Texas, a group of scientists has concluded that the Earth collided with a swarm of cosmic debris on the night of Oct. 3-4, 1996.

    The most widely-reported fireballs were ones over eastern New Mexico and the Texas panhandle, and another near Bakersfield, California, exactly 104 minutes later. The relationship among the times, locations, and trajectories of the meteors seemed too unlikely to be mere coincidence, and had initially led some scientists to believe that a single object skimmed through the atmosphere and re-entered after a single orbit.

    After careful analysis of a videotape taken from El Paso, Texas, together with eyewitness reports, Mark Boslough of Sandia National Laboratories and Peter Brown of the University of Western Ontario found that the first meteor entered at too steep of an angle to skip off the atmosphere. They are now convinced that the two fireballs observed over New Mexico/Texas and over California were two different objects.

    They also determined the most likely location in the Texas panhandle where meteorites might have fallen, and John Wasson (UCLA) has re-issued a reward for a sample. Brown and Boslough believe that any meteorites reaching the ground in the Southwest would most likely be found south of Amarillo, near the towns of Hereford and Canyon, where they were carried by winds to the east of the visible trajectory. The most likely place for small meteorites to have landed would be in an oblong area about 10 miles ESE if Hereford, but any larger meteorites would be in a strip that stretches as far as 10 miles east of Canyon.

    This part of the Texas Panhandle is well-known for its abundance of meteorite finds because it is flat, with little vegetation and few natural rocks on the surface. The most famous area is southwest of Plainview, where over 900 meteorites were recovered after they fell in 1903, and were still being found as late as 1949.

    Over the past year, two groups of scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have also reported low-frequency sound data showing that the Earth's atmosphere was hit by at least 60 objects within several hours of the two that were originally reported, two of which were also observed by Defense Department satellites.

    Most of the infrasound-producing meteors occurred during daylight hours and were not seen by witnesses, but the large number of collisions taking place that night helps explain why two bright ones with such similar trajectories would be seen so closely spaced in time. Although the scientists eliminated their hypothesis of a single object bouncing off the atmosphere and re-entering it later, they are still very interested in the events of one year ago because it means the Earth collided with a cluster of objects, perhaps pieces of a broken asteroid. A sample of one of these meteorites would help scientists determine what kind of asteroid spawned the fragments and better understand how they break apart and explode in the atmosphere, says Sandia's Mark Boslough.

    Prof. John Wasson is seeking such samples and is offering a reward of $2,000 for the first confirmed sample as large as 4 ounces, and he urges persons living within the calculated fall area to look in their fields, on the roofs of buildings, in stock tanks and other locations where stones would not be expected. Meteorite hunters are reminded to get permission of land owners, and that any stones automatically belong to the owner of the property on which it is found. The stones are most likely to be black with a fresh matte texture. Samples should be sent to Prof. Wasson at the Institute of Geophysics, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095, or to Dr. Adrian Brearley, Institute of Meteoritics, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131. Each sample will be acknowledged, but those that are not meteorites will not be returned unless a return self-addressed envelope is provided.

    October 3, 1996: Unsolved Case

    part 6: Coincidence?

    Could anybody find a piece of the October 3 bolide and win the 5000$ reward?...

    Or it disintegrated in a show of gold?