[meteorite-list] First Recorded Meteor Strike in US Fell 200 Years Ago (Weston Meteorite)

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Wed, 12 Dec 2007 11:30:38 -0800 (PST)
Message-ID: <200712121930.LAA26616_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


First recorded meteor strike in the U.S. slammed into area 200 years ago
By Tim Stelloh
The Advocate
December 12 2007

NEW HAVEN - The 28-pound rock on the third floor of the Yale Peabody
Museum isn't much to look at.

It's about the size of a cinder block, with jagged edges and a rusty hue
that, beneath the glint of a Plexiglas case, shimmers when viewed from
the right angle.

The rock is no ordinary remnant of glacial boulders, a common find in

It is a piece of meteorite that, shortly after 6 a.m. on a cloudy
morning 200 years ago this Friday, flashed through the sky in a ball of
fire, producing a sonic boom that shook people out of their beds and
rained fragments of nickel and iron across a 10-mile strip of what is
now Easton and Monroe, but at the time was Weston.

The rock, recovered from Tashua Hill in Trumbull, is the largest of at
least six fragments of the first recorded meteorite to hit the United

"It revolutionized our understanding of the universe," said Karl
Turekian, a professor of geology and geophysics at Yale. "Meteorites
like Weston . . . give us the age of the Earth, the composition of the
solar system."

The story of the meteorite and subsequent scientific discoveries will be
commemorated Friday with events at Easton Public Library and Weston High

Most meteorites are fragments from the asteroid belt between Jupiter and

Some, like the Cape York meteorite, which weighed in at 200 tons when it
exploded in the atmosphere thousands of years ago, are massive.

The Weston meteorite was far smaller - though in an article published in
the years after the collision by Benjamin Silliman, the Yale scientist
who investigated it and interviewed witnesses, described that early
morning flash of fire as one-half to two-thirds the size of the moon.

"In the clear sky a brisk scintillation was observed about the body of
the meteor, like that of a burning firebrand carried against the wind,"
he wrote in the American Journal of Science and Arts.

The flash was seen from as far north as Rutland, Vt., and as far south
as New Jersey, Silliman wrote. There were explosions. There were
whizzing and roaring sounds.

Some who saw and heard the meteorite thought it was a tornado, Silliman
wrote. Others compared the sound to gunfire or to a wagon rolling down a
rocky hill.

Many of the witnesses were farmers, said Judy Albin, a Weston Historical
Society trustee.

"They were the ones who were up in the early morning milking the cows,"
she said. "One woman in Massachusetts, near the Connecticut border, was
on her farm when she saw the fireball streaking across the sky. She
thought it was the moon. She said, where is the moon going? Then it
disappeared behind a cloud."

One farmer said his cattle were so terrified they jumped over a fence
into a neighboring field, Albin said.

Yet many had a pragmatic read on the rocks that fell from the sky.

"They didn't know what (the meteorite) was all about," Albin said. "But
they thought if it came from outer space, it could have gold or silver.
So they gathered up the pieces and pulverized them."

Unfortunately, there was no gold or silver to be found.

Still, the residents who dug up the pieces of meteorite - some burrowed
several feet into the ground - were an enterprising bunch, said Barbara
Narendra, an archivist at the Peabody.

The 28-pound piece of rock didn't make it to Yale until several years
after the meteorite struck.

It was sold for $130 in 1808 to a collector named George Gibbs, whose
mineral collection eventually ended up with the university, Narendra said.

Originally, she said, Gibbs offered $1 and the seller demanded $500.

They compromised, and the rest is history.

Falling to Earth

To mark the 200th anniversary of the Weston meteorite's collision with
Earth, the Weston and Easton historical societies, along with Yale
Peabody Museum, are holding a series of commemorative events:

* Time capsule, Friday, 6 a.m., Easton Public Library

A fragment of the Weston meteorite will return to the area where it fell
200 years ago. The Weston and Easton historical societies will bury a
time capsule of the history of scientific knowledge gained in the 200
years since the meteorite's impact.

* Panel discussion, Friday, 7:30 p.m., Weston High School

The Weston and Easton historical societies will sponsor a panel of
meteor and planetary science experts in a discussion of the "Scientific
and Historical Significance of the Weston Meteorite: A Celebration of
Two Centuries of Inquiry, Interpretation and Insight."

Tickets are $15. For more information, call 227-1507.

* Hands-on meteorite display, Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Yale Peabody
Museum, New Haven.
Received on Wed 12 Dec 2007 02:30:38 PM PST

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