Fwd = Md. Man Sees Meteor. Md. Man Picks Up Meteorite
- Forwarded by: fwestra@... (Frits Westra)
Original Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2002 18:08:44 -0500 (EST)
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>>>> FarShores NewsPosted Feb 28.02
Md. Man Sees Meteor. Md. Man Picks Up Meteorite
[Original headline: 'Falling star' may have fallen in Md]
If scientists confirm Dale Pearce's find, the plum-sized
meteorite would be the fifth found in the state.
Dale Pearce took a rock to work Tuesday and told his co-workers it
fell out of the sky Saturday night, and he found it in the woods
behind his Pasadena home. Sure, Dale.
They didn't believe him at first. But Pearce may get the last laugh.
The plum-sized rock that he says blazed out of the sky and smacked
into the ground behind the Pasadena Crossroads Shopping Center has
been identified by a NASA scientist as a genuine stony meteorite.
Pearce and his rock were due at the Smithsonian Institution this
morning, where experts will cut a slice from it to confirm and
classify the discovery.
If that proves it's the real thing, the meteorite would become only
the fifth known to have been found in Maryland, and the first in 83
Following astronomical custom, it would be named after the U.S. post
office nearest the fall. That would appear to make it the "Glen
Burnie Meteorite," although Pearce favors Pasadena.
A 40-year-old painter with the Baltimore City housing department,
Pearce hopes to sell the space rock and make a down pay ment on a
house for himself, his wife, Michelle, and their two sons, Brad, 10,
and Collin, 6.
Turning the dark reddish- brown rock over in his hand Wednesday, he
said he didn't blame people for doubting his story. "It's kind of
hard to believe I'd seen a shooting star and actually found it, and
here's the rock. I'd be a skeptic, too."
But Michael J. Mumma, chief scientist for planetary research at
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, has seen the rock,
and the spot where it fell. And he's a believer.
Mumma got involved Sunday after Pearce showed his find to a friend,
Terry Kimmel, a dentist who lives in Arnold. Kimmel was impressed
enough to phone his friend -- Mumma -- who studies comets and other
"primitive" relics of the early solar system.
Mumma invited them to his house in Glen Oban, near Annapolis. "As
soon as I saw the stone it was immediately obvious to me it was a
meteorite," Mumma said.
The saddle-shaped rock shows no sign of weathering, fracturing or
tampering. Most tellingly, it has a smooth, black sheen on one side
that scientists call a fusion crust -- a thin layer melted briefly by
friction as a meteor blazes through the atmosphere.
It has evidence of chondrules -- tiny spherical globs of minerals
that condensed 4 1/2 billion years ago in the disk of gas and dust
that formed the sun and planets.
"This was another indication this was a chondritic meteorite," a
stony type and the most common found in observed meteor falls, Mumma
said. Iron-metal meteorites, and carbonaceous types are rarer, more
valuable to collectors and important to science.
If the rock's interior reveals chondrules, that should clinch the
identification, Mumma said.
Pearce led Mumma to the impact site Monday morning. The
grapefruit-sized crater also appeared genuine, Mumma said. "There was
a rather small hole in ground, which was well-fitted to the size of
the meteorite," he said. It was surrounded by a foot-wide fan of
Scientists say meteors this size enter the atmosphere at 18 miles per
second. But they're slowed by the atmosphere and usually strike the
surface at about 200 mph.
"I asked him to put the stone in the hole exactly where he found it
so I could photograph it. He put it in with the fusion side down,
which is exactly what it should be."
Pearce said he had just gotten into his van at about 9:10 p.m.
Saturday, preparing to drive from his Kellington Drive home to pick
up a tool at his brother-in-law's house. "I had the key in the
ignition, and I looked up and saw a streak of light," he said.
In a "split second," it flashed from north to south, trailing a
column of blue, green and red light. It passed behind the tower on
the Kaiser Permanente building in the 8000 block of Ritchie Highway,
and vanished into the woods behind.
"A falling star -- that's the first thing that came to my mind,
although it was the first time I had ever witnessed one," Pearce
He might not be the only one who spotted it. A Lutherville resident
telephoned The Sun on Monday morning and said he was startled by a
bright shooting star toward the southeast at about 9:15 p.m. on
Saturday. He said it had a tail of blue, yellow and red light.
Pearce noted where the meteor vanished. The next afternoon, he headed
into the woods with his sons. He told them it was a treasure hunt. "I
thought we were going to find a star," said Collin.
Pearce has walked these woods often with his boys, and knows them
well. It's a large patch of young poplars, gum, beech and pine trees,
thick with sticker bushes and vines. It took Pearce and his sons 20
minutes to find the stone, resting in its little crater beside a deer
"He was really excited," his wife said. "How many times in your life
do you find something like this? I'm really happy for him." <
Tim McCoy, curator of meteorites at the Smithsonian's Museum of
Natural History in Washington gets his first look at the stone
Thursday. "We get probably 200 specimens a year that people think are
meteorites. If we're lucky, one or two actually turn out to be
meteorites." But fakery is rare, he said.
Based on Mumma's photos, McCoy gives Pearce's rock better than the
normal odds of being a meteorite. "This one I'd say was better than
25 percent, but ... it's so hard to tell anything from pictures."
The Earth plows into an estimated 16,000 tons of meteoritic material
every year. "Shooting stars" can be seen on any clear night, but most
are smaller than a grain of sand and vaporize before they reach the
surface. Those that do reach Earth usually fall in the oceans.
One estimate is that one freshly fallen meteorite is recovered per
year for every 386,000 square miles of land.
"I would guess that 15 or 20 times a year around the world somebody
observes a fall and goes and picks up the meteorites," McCoy said.
Smithsonian records show only four previous meteorite finds in
Maryland. The earliest was a 16 1/2 -pound rock that was seen to fall
at noon Feb. 10, 1825, near Nanjemoy, in Charles County.
A one-pound iron meteorite was found near Emmittsburg, in Frederick
County, in 1854. Another, weighing almost three pounds, was plowed up
in Garrett County, near Lonaconing, in 1888.
The last known meteorite fall in Maryland was a daylight impact a
mile from St. Jerome's Creek, in St. Mary's County, on June 20, 1919.
Pearce says if his find is authenticated, he will sell it. Collectors
are paying $1 to $300 per gram, depending on a meteorite's rarity,
McCoy said. Mumma estimated this one weighs 150 to 200 grams -- a
third- to almost a half-pound.
If it's an ordinary chondrite as Mumma suspects, it would be worth
only a few hundred dollars. If so, he's counseled Pearce to keep it
for his kids.
McCoy said the Smithsonian will keep the slice cut Thursday for
study, and would make a bid for the rest if the stone is genuine. "We
get a lot of visitors from Maryland, and it's the kind of thing we
like to have available and put on display." "People think meteorites
fall everywhere else, but not near them," he said. "The most exciting
thing is that this can happen in their back yard."
Story originally published by:
The Baltimore Sun / MD | Frank D. Roylance - Feb 27.02
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