Breaking: meteorites from Texas fireball possibly found!

By Phil Plait | February 18, 2009 8:15 pm

Oh, this is very cool: two astronomers think they may have found meteorites from the fireball that roared over Texas last week.

They found two small pieces matching a description of meteorites (they had a blackened surface, called a fusion crust) in a town called West, between Waco and Dallas, which looks to be right along the fireball’s path.

If this pans out it will be very exiting! With all the eyewitnesses and the video, a good orbit for this object may be backtracked. And now, if this pans out, we’ll have samples that can be examined chemically to determine the fireball’s composition! It’s the next best thing to going to an asteroid itself, so this is could turn out to be a major boon for astronomers who study asteroids and meteorites both.

And not only that, this thing that came in was probably a meter or so across, which means larger chunks might be out there, just waiting to be found. I hope some folks in that area go looking!

Tip o’ the ten gallon Whipple Shield to BABloggee Lowell Vaughn.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Science

Comments (27)

  1. I can has meteorites?!

  2. Greg in Austin

    Ahh, West… They have a Czech Fest every year called… wait for it… West Fest.

    Its not in the MIDDLE of Nowhere, but it has the same area code.
    ;)

  3. “With all the eyewitnesses and the video, a good orbit for this object may be backtracked.” With only one video (and I’ve heard only about the one from Austin)? Forget it: In the current issue of the magazine of the German Meteor Society there is a paper that demonstrates in the case of a well videographed fireball how wrong even the best visual reports were in comparision (Heinlein, Notiz zur Genauigkeit von visuellen Meteorbeobachtungen, Meteoros 12, 48-50 [2/2009]).

    In certain cases visual reports by eyewitnesses close to the end point may help pin down a meteorite strewn field (such was the case in Spain a while ago), but there has never been a reliable heliocentric orbit determination based dominantly on visual reports and regardless of their number. Anyway, first wait for analysis of the alleged meteorites – often things recovered quickly after high-profile bolide events turn out to be “meteo-wrongs” …

  4. Can anyone recommend a good meteorite identification guide? My daughter found this rock in the yard a year ago. It looks kinda like volcanic rock, but it has iron in it. I have no idea where it came from (this is southern Louisiana, so any rock is a big surprise).

  5. What if these were pieces from the satellite collision?

  6. aaron

    How does the size spectrum work wrt to visibility of meteors? In Death from the skies you seemed to say (if I remember correctly) that meteors we usually see are the size of grains of sand and you now mention that this one was about a meter. Are rocks this size or larger that rare or is there some reason why we might not see larger rocks?

  7. Tracy

    I can also suggest “Rocks From Space”, by O. Richard Norton as a good start to the study of meteorites.

    Brian, the satellite pieces would be all metal, not a rock composite as these apparently were. It would also be pretty easy to identify them as from the satellite collision due to orbital tracking of the biggest chunks, etc.

    Aaron, most meteors we see (like from a meteor shower) are sand-tiny. Meter sized or bigger bolides that make it to the ground are much less common. For bigger rocks, it’s also common that they break up when atmospheric compression during entry stresses the rock beyond its breaking point, and you get a barrage of much smaller bits, not big lumps. This produces what is known as a strewnfield, an elliptical shaped area where all the pieces parts from one meteorite fall land. Again, there are several good books and websites out there that explain this much better than I can!

  8. MadScientist

    @rhett:

    Good luck identifying the rock. :) If it is a meteorite the best thing to do with it is probably to keep it; it’s not every day you find a big piece. Some types have very low value (very common and uninteresting) while other types can attract unbelievable amounts of money. If it is a meteorite, finding someone to give you an honest appraisal of the value is tough (unless you already know someone who can do it and you can trust them). To give you some example of the sorts of games that go on – some decades ago fragments of a meteorite fell in Murchison, Australia. That meteorite was a pretty rare type; it had organic compounds in it which give the meteorite a peculiar smell. Some unscrupulous people actually went around claiming to be government officials and telling locals lies about the meteorite being toxic etc and essentially robbing the locals of the bits they may have found and picked up. Hint: last time I checked, one of those bastards was a top meteorite merchant.

  9. kurt_eh

    When I clicked the link back to the article, for a second, I thought it said “UNIT astronomers…”

  10. Don’t you just love that conspiracy nutter’s comment under the linked news story… ;-)

  11. Added to the Astronomy Link List

  12. Ryan

    I’ve been to West a few times. I always had to tell people that I was from West Texas but not the town.

  13. k1p

    Loves me some kolaches from West!

  14. @ Marco:

    Indeed, the commenter used standard nutter tactic #3: cut and paste vast quantities of irrelevant text to prove your theory.

    Truly amazing, and utterly predictable every single time.

    (Which leads me to wonder, when the nuts post on Dr. BA’s blog, do they sit back and wait for the likes of me to respond with my forced humor and snarkiness? Hmmm…predictable?)

  15. dre

    Very ‘exiting’? I’m excited, personally.

  16. o rly

    I like “Darrell’s” wall-of-text. At least he was kind enough to post his intent within the first sentence, so I didn’t have to waste any time reading the rest.

  17. I’ve just learned from a German source who knows some of the meteorite hunters working the Texas strewn field right now that the chondritic nature of one of the first rocks found has been confirmed! The “possibly” thus can be stricken from the headline.

  18. Aquaria

    The nuttiness is even better over at the Houston Chronicle’s original article immediately after the sighting, but before anyone determined what it was.

    A lot of times, I try to say that Texas isn’t full of brain-dead bigots, but, sorry. The Chron comments will convince everyone that the stupid and hate in your average Texan approaches epic levels. It’s weapons-grade stupid.

  19. Darth Wader

    Im 30 miles south of Waco, is there chance of finding a chunk. Aquaria, I resemble that remark.

  20. «bønez_brigade»

    I liked this line best:
    “West is about 70 miles south of Dallas.”

  21. Mark Wilcox

    Darth Wader – there is possibility. I’ve heard from friends in the area people are saying they’ve found though quite possibly they are from meteors that are not this latest fireball.

    Aquaria – Those types of comments are what discourages from people to coming to the skeptic/scientific side because they fear being insulted if they don’t fit your own personal bias of intelligence.

  22. eeldrop

    Interesting tidbit…West is just a few miles south of Abbott, which is where Willie Nelson’s family farm is.

    There’s a weed joke in here somewhere; I just haven’t found it yet.

  23. “I hope some folks in that area go looking!”

    Not to mention a nice pay day for the lucky person to find more fragments.

  24. 1realtor

    My brother called me tonight and said he and his daughter had found a lot of meteorite looking rocks about 50 miles west of west

  25. 1realtor

    anybody know what marble to golf size pieces might be worth?

  26. Jenny

    I found a strange rock in my back yard this week. I have done all the checks for a meteorite. It has passed. Where can I get this meteorite tested by a professional. I am located in Belton, Tx. N of Austin and S of West, Tx? Please respond to thndrstrm20000@yahoo.com
    Thank You

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