PLEASE NOTE:


*

CCNet, 36/2003 -  28 March 2003
-------------------------------


"The midnight sky flashed an eerie blue early Thursday over four Midwestern states as a meteorite exploded in the atmosphere, sending rocks as big as softballs crashing through some houses.... Paul Sipiera, a professor of geology and astronomy at Harper College in Palatine, Ill., spent Thursday examining dozens of pieces of meteorites and plotting where they fell. The largest he saw was about 7 1/2 pounds. "For me, it's a dream come true," he said. "I always tell my wife that when I die, I hope I get hit in the head by a meteorite flying through the roof and it came pretty close," he said.
--Associated Press, 27 March 2003


(1) CAR-SIZED METEOR EXPLODES, SHOWERS ROCKS ON MIDWESTERN HOMES
    Associated Press, 27 March 2003

(2) METEORITES SHOWER CHICAGO'S SOUTH SUBURBS
    Steve Koppes <s-koppes@uchicago.edu>

(3) METEOR BLAZES PATH TO PARK FOREST
    Steve Koppes <s-koppes@uchicago.edu>

(4) CHICAGO FIREBALL
    Space Weather News for March 27, 2003

(5) WATCHING THE WAR FROM SPACE
    Alan Boyle's Cosmic Log, 27 March 2003

(6) GOVERNMENT FUNDING FOR SPACEWATCH SPAIN
    Mark Kidger <mrk@ll.iac.es>

(7) AND FINALLY: THE END IS ALWAYS NEAR
    The Los Angeles Times, 27 March 2003


===============
(1) CAR-SIZED METEOR EXPLODES, SHOWERS ROCKS ON MIDWESTERN HOMES

>From Associated Press, 27 March 2003
http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story2&cid=624&ncid=624&e=1&u=/ap/20030327/ap_on_sc/meteor_shower
 
By RICK CALLAHAN, Associated Press Writer

INDIANAPOLIS - The midnight sky flashed an eerie blue early Thursday over four Midwestern states as a meteorite exploded in the atmosphere, sending rocks as big as softballs crashing through some houses.

Residents in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin reported seeing the disintegrating meteorite flash across the sky about midnight. Police were soon deluged with reports of falling rocks striking homes and cars.

Chris Zeilenga, 42, of Beecher, Ill., said he and his wife, Pauline, were watching TV war coverage around midnight.

"The sky lit up completely from horizon to horizon. We've seen lightning storms, but this was nothing like that," he said. "A minute or so later the house started rumbling and we heard all these tiny particles hitting the house."

Outside his home about 30 miles south of Chicago, Zeilenga found tiny gray and black pieces of stone. He didn't realize their origin until he heard people talking about meteorites as he rode the morning train to work in Chicago. "When I heard that I thought, 'That's what it was!'"

Kenneth and Karen Barnes of Park Forest, Ill., told WGN-TV in Chicago they were sleeping when a 5-pound meteorite crashed into their living room. Thursday morning their son spotted a hole in the ceiling.

"I didn't know what to think, so we went looking through the house for it and found it," Kenneth Barnes said.

Commander Mike McNamara of the Park Forest Police Department said about 60 pieces of space rock ranging from gravel-sized to softball-sized were brought in to the police station.

He said three homes in Park Forest were damaged, along with the fire department and possibly one car. Two homes in the nearby town of Matteson also were struck by meteorite pieces.

Paul Sipiera, a professor of geology and astronomy at Harper College in Palatine, Ill., spent Thursday examining dozens of pieces of meteorites and plotting where they fell. The largest he saw was about 7 1/2 pounds.

He said the debris field appears to cover a path about 80 miles long by 20 miles wide from north of Bloomington, Ill., to Chicago's south side and possibly part of northwestern Indiana.

He said all of the pieces came from a stony meteorite he estimates was about the size of a Volkswagen bug when it exploded as it plunged into Earth's atmosphere.

A spokesman for the U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Neb., said the defense installation was not tracking any manmade space objects in the area at the time that the light show appeared over the Midwest.

Sipiera said it's very rare for meteorites to fall on populated areas.

"For me, it's a dream come true," he said. "I always tell my wife that when I die, I hope I get hit in the head by a meteorite flying through the roof and it came pretty close," he said.

Copyright 2003, AP

============
(2) METEORITES SHOWER CHICAGO'S SOUTH SUBURBS

>From Steve Koppes <s-koppes@uchicago.edu>

March 27,  2003
Contact: Steve Koppes
773-702-8366
s-koppes@uchicago.edu

MEDIA ADVISORY
Meteorites shower Chicago's south suburbs

University of Chicago meteorite experts Lawrence Grossman and Steven Simon usually commute from Chicago's south suburbs to their laboratory on the Hyde Park campus to study rocks that have fallen from space. But at midnight last night a shower of meteorites came to them.

"I heard a detonation," said Grossman, a Professor in Geophysical Sciences who lives in the south suburb of Flossmoor, Ill. "It was sharp enough to wake me up."

Simon, a Senior Research Associate in Geophysical Sciences, lives in nearby Park Forest, where much of the meteorite fell. Simon, who works in Grossman's laboratory, is spending the day collecting information from area residents who brought samples of the meteorite to the Park Forest police station.

Grossman said meteorites from the fall have been found in Park Forest, which is approximately 30 miles south of downtown Chicago, as well as the nearby communities of Steger to the south and Olympia Fields to the north. He said the meteorite is classified as a chondrite, a common type of meteorite.

Journalists may arrange an interview with Grossman or Simon; call Steve Koppes at the University of Chicago News Office, 773-702-8366.

==============
(3) METEOR BLAZES PATH TO PARK FOREST

>From Steve Koppes <s-koppes@uchicago.edu>

By Joseph Sjostrom and Nancy Ryan
Tribune staff reporters
Published March 27, 2003, 1:20 PM CST

Chunks of rocks believed to be the remains of a meteor that lit up the Midwestern sky as it exploded rained down across the southern suburbs early this morning, damaging homes and other buildings but injuring no one.

The meteor streaked across the sky about midnight before apparently blowing up with a bright flash and a thundering boom. About 100 fragments ranging in size from small stones to softball-size chunks were recovered from yards, driveways, streets and even the insides of houses in Park Forest, Matteson and Steger.

One piece reportedly struck a Park Forest fire station. Another grayish, five-pound rock landed in the second-floor bedroom of Noe and Paulette Garza, of the 400 block of Indiana Avenue in Park Forest.

"I could have gotten hit in the head by that thing," Garza, a 48-year-old steelworker, said as he surveyed the damage caused when the rock crashed into his home about 12:30 a.m.

The rock punched a hole through the roof and ceiling, shredded a set of venetian blinds, ricocheted off a metal window sill, shot about 15 feet across the bedroom and shattered a floor-to-ceiling mirror before coming to rest on the floor.

Garza said he was in bed when heard his dog barking and what sounded like thunder. He got out of bed and was downstairs when the meteor hit.

This morning, he called his boss and told him he wasn't coming into work today. "I told him what happened, and he said, 'Okay, but don't use that excuse again.'"

The fall could be a boon for local scientists. Most meteors, also called "shooting stars," burn up in the atmosphere. The few that survive all the way to the ground are called meteorites. For one to cause damage is almost unheard of.

Park Forest police said the National Weather Service was notified, and officials there confirmed a meteor shower had taken place over the Midwest and the sky had brightened just before midnight.

Residents of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin reported seeing the flash of bright blue light as the meteor streaked overhead. Some people expressed fears the apparition might have something to do with the war in Iraq.

Tia McConathy, a next-door neighbor of the Garzas, said she was standing by a window of her home and was startled by an intense light, brighter than lightning and lasting much longer.

"I thought, 'Is it God? Is it an attack? Are we going to die?' The light freaked me out. It felt really funny, like it went through me," she said.

Several witnesses called the Tribune, including Lauren Ellis, 18, of southwest suburban Plainfield.

"About five of us were in the car, and we were driving down the street in Plainfield near our house around midnight, and the sky just lit up. We were in shock. We pulled over because we thought it was a bomb," Ellis said.

"With all that's going on in Iraq, we were wondering what it was," she said. "We all heard a sound about two minutes after. It was like a sonic boom."

Chris Zeilenga, 42, of Beecher, said he and his wife Pauline were "watching Iraqi stuff on TV when a couple minutes after midnight, the entire sky lit up. It was like daylight, and it lasted maybe two to three seconds. We said, 'What the heck was that?'

"A minute to 2 1/2 minutes later, we heard a trembling sound, like a train," Zeilenga said. "The rumbling lasted about a minute, and then we heard pieces hitting the house. The whole thing was strange. I've never seen anything like it."

Jim Kaplan, of the Romeoville office of the National Weather Service, told the Associated Press he was outside checking a rain gauge when he saw a flash of light in the sky.

"First, it got very bright and the sky lit up,'' Kaplan said. ``You could see something streaking across the sky and breaking up into glowing chunks as it went from west to east.''

Lauren Bishop, 19, a freshman at Loyola University on Chicago's North Side, was in her dorm room in the Rogers Park neighborhood around midnight when she and her roommate saw the flash of light.

"We were in our dorm facing north when something lit up the entire sky. I didn't hear any noise," Bishop said. "Then we talked to a friend in Indiana who saw the same exact thing at the same time."

WGN-Ch. 9 and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune

==============
(4) CHICAGO FIREBALL

>From Space Weather News for March 27, 2003
http://www.spaceweather.com

CHICAGO FIREBALL: Sky watchers in Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana were surprised around local midnight on March 26th-27th when a brilliant fireball streaked across the sky and exploded. "It was a small space rock (perhaps only 1 or 2 meters wide) with a mass of about 10 metric tons," reports Bill Cook of the Marshall Space Flight Center. "Some 500 fragments scattered over a 10-km wide zone in the suburbs south of Chicago." Meteorites struck houses, cars, roads--but no people. Scientists are scouring the area now to collect debris for further study. News reports:

These events are surprisingly common. "We expect an asteroidal object one meter in diameter or larger to strike Earth's atmosphere about 40 times per year," says Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program at JPL. Few are seen, however, because the fireballs usually appear over unpopulated areas.

How bright was this one'? "About half as bright as the Sun," says Robert Soltysik, who saw the fireball through the window of his house in Valparaiso, Indiana. "The flash lit up the room like daylight just before sunset." A freelance photographer in the Chicago suburb of Park Forest captured this picture of the fireball, which "turned midnight (left) to noon (right)" for several seconds. Photos courtesy NBC5.com.

===============
(5) WATCHING THE WAR FROM SPACE

>From Alan Boyle's Cosmic Log, 27 March 2003
http://www.msnbc.com/news/750150.asp?0si=-

Journalists are providing unprecedented coverage of the war in Iraq - including Baghdad Webcams, battlefront blogs, front-line videophones and even the "Bloommobile." There are also plenty of swooping views of downtown Baghdad, based on archived satellite imagery. But you may have missed the opportunity to see the big picture from above.

For a wide-angle view of the region, including glimpses of the sandstorms and oil fires that have played such a big part in the war coverage, you can consult weather satellite imagery from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Another roundup of environmental satellite imagery is available via "Near Real-time Satellite Images of Iraq," a Web site maintained by Kinetic Analysis Corp.

To review the closer-in aerial views displayed by the U.S.-led military coalition during its briefings - or, for that matter, other visual materials released by the Pentagon - you can check out the archive at Defense Link. You can also consult a better-organized archive of military imagery at GlobalSecurity.org.

Space Imaging, a Colorado-based company, has provided many of the views from space you see in the news - and most of those pictures have been snapped by the commercial Ikonos satellite, orbiting about 423 miles (680 kilometers) above Earth's surface. Since the war is only a week old, Ikonos is just starting to provide imagery taken during the hostilities.

The first picture, made available Wednesday, shows a "before-and-after" view of an Iraqi facility in the southern city of Basra that was targeted by coalition bombs. The 1.4-megabyte image has been provided to news media courtesy of Space Imaging Eurasia. Red arrows highlight the damage.

This image will likely be added to Space Imaging's extensive Image Gallery, company spokesman Gary Napier said.

DigitalGlobe, another satellite imagery company, already has set up a gallery of Baghdad imagery, including dramatic views of burning oil fires and bomb damage.

We haven't seen any battlefield views from the international space station yet, but if the crew happens to take any pictures, you'll probably find them via NASA's "Earth Sciences and Image Analysis" Web page. This week Science@NASA presents a visual-audio report about astrophotography on the space station, and you can also check out our archive of space station chats for an astronaut's perspective on Sept. 11 and its continuing aftermath.

============================
* LETTERS TO THE MODERATOR *
============================

(6) GOVERNMENT FUNDING FOR SPACEWATCH SPAIN

>From Mark Kidger <mrk@ll.iac.es>

Benny:

You probably know that I am one of the founder members of Spacewatch Spain.  Here is a brief news note about state funding to set it up.

Mark
--------

The Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology supports the initial funding of Spaceguard Spain

Spaceguard Spain was set up in 2002 as a collaboration between a number of academic institutions in Spain and a group of highly dedicated amateur astronomers based in Catalonia and the island of Majorca who have been obtaining important results in NEO observation over the last few years. To
help with the initial formation and running costs of setting up the organisation a request was made to the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology for a special grant through their urgent grants programme.

The Ministry of Science and Technology has just communicated that they will fund the project for an initial one year period. A total of 50 000 Euros ($53 600) has been allocated, covering a substantial part of the funding requested for the first year of operation. The leader of the group, José Luis Ortiz from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía is delighted with the official recognition of the value of NEO research that this grant represents.

Spacewatch Spain is a collaboration between the following Spanish institutions:

Universidad de Valladolid
Observatorio Astronómico de Mallorca
Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias
Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía
Universidad de Barcelona

=================
(7) AND FINALLY: THE END IS ALWAYS NEAR

>From The Los Angeles Times, 27 March 2003
http://www.calendarlive.com/movies/cl-wk-movie27mar27,0,5305908.story?coll=cl%2Dhome%2Dmore%2Dchannels

"The Core" is the latest in a long tradition of Earth-in-jeopardy sci-fi disaster films.
 
By Susan King, Times Staff Writer

Ever since the deepest freeze of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union more than half a century ago, filmmakers have used the sci-fi genre to exploit people's fears about the tenuous, fragile state of the world. Plots of these films follow one of three paths: The Earth is confronted either by murderous aliens, out-of-control meteors, comets and asteroids, or some sort of natural disaster caused by human meddling.

In Paramount's old-fashioned disaster flick, "The Core," which hits theaters Friday, scientists discover the Earth's core has stopped spinning. Disasters threaten to destroy all life on the planet, so scientists in an experimental ship head to the center of the Earth to set off nuclear bombs to restart the core.

"The Core" is the latest in Paramount's long line of flicks about the end of the world. Back in 1951, the studio scored a huge hit with "When Worlds Collide," a campy thrill ride about the survival strategy devised when astronomers discover that a rogue planet is on a collision course with Earth. Barbara Rush and lantern-jawed Richard Derr star in this Technicolor release that won an Oscar for special effects.

Even more entertaining is "The War of the Worlds," Paramount's 1953 adaptation of H.G. Wells' story about invaders from Mars who turn their death ray onto Southern California. Gene Barry and Ann Robinson star; the film also picked up a special effects Oscar.

One of the best "Star Trek" movies, 1986's "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home," also from Paramount, is a romp that finds Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of the USS Enterprise gang traveling back in time to contemporary San Francisco to extract a pair of humpback whales (extinct in the Trek era) to communicate with an alien probe that is disintegrating everything in its path on its way to Earth.

Just five years ago, Paramount released "Deep Impact," a big-budget CGI effects-filled disaster flick/soap opera that follows the lives of several people in the weeks before a big comet collides with the world. The cast includes several Oscar winners, including Robert Duvall, Vanessa Redgrave and Maximilian Schell.

Here's a look at other notable end-of-the-world sci-fi flicks:

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951): Robert Wise directed this intelligent antiwar film about a soft-spoken alien (Michael Rennie) who arrives in his spaceship in Washington, D.C., with a warning.

"Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" (1961): Irwin Allen was the "Master of Disaster" in the 1960s and 1970s. This dopey thriller is set aboard the world's most advanced experimental submarine. As the ship travels to the North Pole, the Van Allen radiation belt catches fire, causing Earth temperatures to rise. The sub's obsessed captain (Walter Pidgeon) changes course to the South Pacific to fire a nuclear missile into the core. Along the way, he must battle a saboteur, giant squids and an angry crew. Barbara Eden and Frankie Avalon (who sings the title tune and plays the trumpet), Joan Fontaine and Michael Ansara are also along for the ride.

"The Day the Earth Caught Fire" (1961): Val Guest directed this compelling British thriller that finds the Earth speeding toward the sun after the U.S. and the Soviet Union secretly fire nuclear devices. A London newspaper editor dispatches his science reporter and an alcoholic columnist to get to the bottom of the crisis. Janet Munro, Leo McKern and Edward Judd star.

"Crack in the World" (1965): Another import from England. Dana Andrews plays a terminally ill scientist who decides to tap the geothermal energy of the Earth's interior by detonating a thermonuclear device. The resulting fissure threatens to split the planet in two.

"The Andromeda Strain" (1971): Twenty years after he made "The Day the Earth Stood Still" director Wise returned to the sci-fi genre with this well-crafted film based on Michael Crichton's first best-seller about a group of doctors who must find a way to stop a deadly alien virus before it spreads. Arthur Hiller, David Wayne, James Olson and Kate Reid head the sturdy cast.

"Meteor" (1979): An overstuffed turkey. A group of very talented actors -- Natalie Wood, Sean Connery, Karl Malden, Trevor Howard and Martin Landau -- are trapped in this disaster of a film about an errant meteor on a collision course with Earth.

"Independence Day" (1996): Aliens arrive in giant spaceships and begin to decimate the planet in Roland Emmerich's blockbuster. Spectacular special effects and exciting action sequences almost make up for the melodramatic plotlines, cardboard characters and bad accents. Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch and Mary McDonnell are among the stars.

"Armageddon" (1998): Just a few short months after "Deep Impact," Disney countered with its asteroid-on-a-collision-course-with-Earth extravaganza. The special effects are nifty, but the dialogue and characters are strictly earthbound. Bruce Willis heads the cast for director Michael Bay.

"Signs" (2002): Aliens that look like knockoffs of the Jolly Green giant arrive en masse in M. Night Shyamalan's erratic thriller. Mel Gibson is an embittered widower with two children bent on keeping his family safe.

Copyright 2003, The Los Angeles Times

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*

UPDATE ON THE CHICAGO METEOR
----------------------------


"I could have gotten hit in the head by that thing," said Noe Garza,
48, a steelworker. A few hours later he called his supervisor to report that he couldn't come to work Thursday. "I told him what happened, and he laughed and said, `OK, but don't use that excuse again.'"


METEORITES MAKE FOR A ROCKY NIGHT
 
>From Steve Koppes <s-koppes@uchicago.edu>

Meteorites make for a rocky night
Chunks break, enter homes in south suburbs

By Joseph Sjostrom and Deborah Horan
Tribune staff reporters
Published March 28, 2003

A hail of meteorites pelted Illinois for the first time in more than
60 years late Wednesday, poking holes in rooftops and bouncing around
like pinballs inside homes in the Chicago area.

One fragment of what had originally been a single, large meteorite
narrowly missed a Park Forest man, crashing into the spot in his
bedroom where he had been standing only minutes before. The meteor
flashed across the sky as it burst apart at about 11:50 p.m.,
according to the National Weather Service, and was seen by people
from Wisconsin to Ohio. Some thought the brilliant light might have
been an attack.

"The sky just lit up," said Lauren Ellis of Plainfield, who was
traveling in a car when the meteor shot across the sky. "We were in
shock. We pulled over because we thought it was a bomb."

There were no injuries reported in Wednesday's meteorite shower,
which rained at least two dozen chunks of material across the Chicago
area. Police said meteorites crashed through the roofs of two homes
in Matteson and Olympia Fields and hit three intersections. In
Steger, a man found rocks in his driveway. And several people brought
rocks that appeared to be meteorite chunks to the Park Forest police
station.

"They might be out there for weeks picking these pieces up," said Dan
Joyce, a scientist at the Cernan Earth and Space Center at Triton
College in River Grove.

Scientists said they had not yet mapped out the trajectory of the
meteorite, which exploded into small chunks as it entered the Earth's
atmosphere.

A 5-pound fragment fell through the roof of Noe and Paulette Garza's
house in the 400 block of Indiana Avenue in Park Forest and bounced
about the room. It punched a softball-size hole in the roof and then
crashed through the ceiling and shredded a set of venetian blinds. It
ricocheted off a metal window sill, shot about 15 feet across the
bedroom and shattered a floor-to-ceiling mirror before coming to rest
on the floor.

Garza had been standing at the windowsill only minutes before the
meteorite hit.

"I could have gotten hit in the head by that thing," said Noe Garza,
48, a steelworker.

A few hours later he called his supervisor to report that he couldn't
come to work Thursday. "I told him what happened, and he laughed and
said, `OK, but don't use that excuse again.'"

Scientists say that every day about 50 tons of material from space
falls on the Earth, most of it only the size of a grain of sand.

1938 incidents

The last time space debris large enough to be seen and recovered fell
on Illinois was in 1938, when meteorites hit Benld and Bloomington in
separate incidents. In Benld, a 3-pound meteorite crashed through the
roof of a garage and ripped a hole in a car seat. The seat and
meteorite are on display in Chicago's Field Museum.
A few meteorites have been much larger. A meteorite 100 meters in
diameter landed near Flagstaff, Ariz., about 50,000 years ago and
left a crater 1-mile wide. Scientists believe that a huge
meteorite--perhaps 10 kilometers in diameter--caused dinosaurs to
become extinct when it slammed into the Earth some 65 million years
ago.

Mark Hammergren of Chicago's Adler Planetarium said the rocks that
landed late Wednesday were probably formed 4 billion years ago when
the sun and planets became differentiated and settled into their
orbits. One mass of space debris failed to coalesce into a planet and
instead formed the asteroid belt, a band of rocks that circles the
sun in an orbit between Mars and Jupiter.

Over the eons, asteroids bump into each other, sending chips and
chunks out of orbit. Some of them, Hammergren said, end up on a
collision course with Earth.

The Adler's Larry Ciupik guessed that the original meteor may have
weighed a few hundred pounds and was traveling 25,000 m.p.h. when it
hit the Earth's atmosphere. Friction with the atmosphere produced
heat so intense that the air around the meteor glowed, producing the
bright light seen from Wisconsin to Ohio.
The pressure of air on the meteor caused it to break apart, he said,
with some of the little chunks disintegrating into brilliant streams
of light and a few larger ones making it all the way to the Garzas'
bedroom and Brenda and Phillip Jones' basement in Olympia Fields.

"Amazing, amazing," said Ciupik, one of four Adler astronomers who
stood in the Joneses' kitchen. They were scrutinizing the
cantaloupe-size rock that had crashed through the Joneses' roof,
penetrated the kitchen floor and hit the basement floor, where it
bounced onto a table and came to rest on a pile of clothes.

"It had to be going hundreds of miles an hour to go through all those
layers of roofing and floor," Ciupik said of the black and gray rock.

Scientists said they were eager to get their hands on the chunks of
debris to study qualities of the meteorites--including
radioactivity--that could dissipate with time.

"We can really learn a lot from meteorites about when the solar
system was forming," said Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of meteorites at
the Field Museum. "They are as old as the sun."

Deep questions

Several members of the McConathy family, who live next door to the
Garzas Park Forest, were awake when the meteor illuminated the
neighborhood with a bluish light as bright as daylight.

Shirley McConathy wondered whether an enemy was attacking from the
sky. Relative Tia McConathy pondered deeper questions.

"I thought, `Is this God? Are we going to die?' The light is what
really freaked me out," she said.

An Allstate Insurance Co. adjuster visited the Joneses' home Thursday
and told them the damage to their house was covered. He said it was
his first case of meteorite damage in 33 years in the insurance
business.

Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune

============
METEORITES CRASH-LAND IN SUBURBS

>From Steve Koppes <s-koppes@uchicago.edu>

Chicago Sun-Times, 28 March 2003

BY KATE N. GROSSMAN STAFF REPORTER 

The three giddy meteorite buffs descended on Park Forest early
Thursday morning, eager to poke and prod 10 pieces of rare gray and
black rock that littered the south suburban community Wednesday night
during a meteorite shower.

"This is like winning the lottery, just without the money," said an
elated Paul Sipiera, a meteorite collector and educator, as he
examined the stones collected at the Park Forest police station.

This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Meteorite showers
with this many pieces occur in populated areas roughly every five to
20 years, two scientists said, with the last known fall in Illinois
in 1938, according to the Field Museum. Showers can occur daily, but
the stones usually land in an ocean or forest.

The Park Forest shower, as it will likely be dubbed by scientists, is
also unique because of the number and size of the stones, with two as
large as 16-inch softballs and weighing about eight pounds.

Researchers go gaga over these showers because meteorites--as meteors
are called when they land on Earth--help explain how the solar system
formed 4.5 billion years ago. Meteorites are as old as the solar
system.

Most rocks on Earth are 100 million years old or younger.

By studying the fragments, scientists can learn about the chemical
composition of the solar system, its age and the chemical processes
that occurred as the solar system cooled from gas to solid planets.

"It's a window to our past," said Steve Simon, a University of
Chicago professor who lives in Park Forest and was one of the three
enthusiasts at the police station early Thursday.

Wednesday's midnight shower scattered stones across Park Forest, with
about 12 reported to police by day's end. At least two other
communities, Olympia Fields and Matteson, also reported finding one
stone each. Scientists speculate stones could also be found across
the Midwest.

The fireball that preceded the shower--when the meteor entered the
atmosphere and began breaking up--was seen across the upper Midwest.
Simon saw the sky light up about 11:50 p.m. Wednesday.

Before entering the atmosphere, the meteor was probably the size of a
minivan and traveling up to 10 miles per second, said Meenakshi
Wadhwa of the Field Museum.

When the meteorite hit homes, the fire station and streets in Park
Forest, it was falling at about 120 mph.

A piece of it slammed through the roof of Noe Garza's house into his
bedroom, smashing a window and windowsill and ricocheting across the
room to a mirror, which it shattered. Noe's 13-year-old son was
sleeping only a few feet from where the meteorite hit.

In Olympia Fields, police say, another large stone crashed through
the roof of a home and ended up in the basement. There were no
injuries in either community.

Despite the damage they cause, these stones can be quite valuable.
Dealers are wiling to pay between $1 and $10 a gram for them, one
collector said.

Copyright 2003, Chicago Sun-Times



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