The sky is falling!

By Phil Plait | February 18, 2009 12:55 pm

Speaking of weird stuff falling from the sky being mistaken for other things, we have two stories today, one from New Jersey and the other from Alabama.

In Jersey, this thing fell out of the sky this morning and smashed through a warehouse roof:

Metal that fell into a new jersey warehouse

What the frak is that thing? They say it made a huge noise as it tore through the roof, and was too hot to touch for a half hour.

It’s obviously not natural, but what is it? It’s metal, so maybe it did fall from orbit. Unlike meteorites, which slow rapidly in the upper atmosphere and cool the rest of the way down to the ground, manmade objects deorbiting can still be hot when they hit; they start at lower angles to the air and don’t necessarily slow as rapidly (this thing looks dense, so its weight-to-surface area is high, meaning it won’t slow as much). Could it be from a satellite or rocket launch? Maybe. We don’t know enough yet to be sure. However, I very much doubt it’s from the satellite collision last week, since there simply hasn’t been enough time to see much orbital decay from the shrapnel.

[Update (19:00 Mountain Time): From the comments, we may have a winner. Looks like a grinder tip to me. How it feel through the warehouse roof with such a high temperature is another issue…]

Rock that fell from the sky and hit a car

The second object is rock of some sort, which an Alabama man claims fell from the sky in early February and hit his car. However, looking at the rock I don’t think it’s a meteorite. They don’t have layers like that one does; it looks like a sedimentary rock or even a metamorphic one, neither of which describes stony meteorites. It’s big, 20-30 cm across, so it’s hard to say from whence it came. A nearby explosion, slag from a factory (it happens), or even just plain old hoaxery. The owner claims he’ll send it someplace for analysis, so eventually we may find out.

If anyone hears follow-up news to these stories, please let me know or leave a comment below!

Tip op’ the Whipple Shield to Doug Troy and the Hive Overmind’s own Amos.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, DeathfromtheSkies!

Comments (56)

  1. Timothy from Boulder

    The Herald Times Online is reporting that it came from a woodchipper, dontcha know?

  2. Naomi

    Maybe the metal artifact fell from a plane? It’s been known to happen. The rock, though, I have NO idea.

  3. TS

    The first one looks like something from a high voltage cable tower.

  4. Neil

    Debris from a satellite collision?

    Doubtful, I’m sure.

  5. Todd W.

    Second one is clearly Paul Bunyan’s golf ball.

  6. TS nailed it on the first one. Any transformers or powerlines do a big boom?

    That second one almost looks like it has something organic to it (petrified dung). I can’t get to the embiggened version though, so it could just be this gubment monitor…

  7. Timothy from Boulder

    To corroborate my original post about the metal being from a woodchipper, a similar event occured in Bayonne, NJ in 2007. News report and photo below.

    Another woodchipper “meteorite”.

  8. Joe Krudys

    Regarding the NJ object, they’re saying it came from a woodchipper.

  9. Levi in NY



  10. Joe Krudys

    Here’s a better link . . .

    Sorry. The first link had the article, but you had to scroll all the way down.

  11. Quatguy

    According to the news link, the metal piece apparently came from some next door industrial operation and the piece was heated by friction.

  12. Quatguy

    “Reliable wood products officials claim their equipment is routinely inspected but metal fatigue could have caused the freak event. They add the piece was hot from the friction created in the process of chopping wood into mulch”.

  13. Actually the news was reporting they think it was metal thrown off from the near by light rail. Terrestrial in origin. :)

  14. Timothy from Boulder

    I have a couple posts in the queue that are awaiting moderation because of the links to news stories about the incident. But a similar woodchipper fragment reportedly went through a residential roof in Bayonne, NJ in 2007–and the officials were sure of its origin because they had seen yet another similar incident in 2006.

    Apparently woodchipper parts are flying all around New Jersey.

  15. Looks like a hammer from an indurial wood grinding machine. Here is a photo of one:

    Here are some more pics:

  16. Better woodchipper parts instead of cow chips :)

  17. Todd W.

    @Timothy from Boulder

    Apparently woodchipper parts are flying all around New Jersey.

    Are you implying that New Jersey has trees? I thought it was just a big garbage dump for NYC. (Apologies to those from NJ. My joking attitude toward the state has been reinforced by a friend from there.)

  18. Durnett

    Someone has been playing with his catapult…

  19. Are you implying that New Jersey has trees?

    Imported trees, perhaps.

  20. I just discovered this site thanks to The Pioneer Woman being featured in Time’s Top Blogs. She gave a shout out to herself with a link to Time and I investigated. Congrats! I have added you to my Google Reader. Although astronomy ain’t my bag, it sure is interesting. I’m sure there’ll be subjects that fly right over my head…but that just challenges me to find our more. Keep on keepin on!!

  21. Grant

    OT: Phil… time to check your GoogleAds. I just saw one for >.<

  22. Todd W.

    @Who’s Your Audience

    Welcome! While the majority of posts are on astronomy topics, there will be some that deal with science in general, sci fi, critical thinking, and where these topics intersect with religion and politics. And, every post is labeled appropriately, so you can read the topics that interest you, and ignore the ones you don’t care to read!

  23. Rev. I. P. Freeley

    Isaiah 34:4 And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree.

  24. Timothy from Boulder

    So now I’ve developed an irrational fear that every time I’m near an industrial area the machinery is going to fling out 10-lb. hunks of scorching hot metal onto my head! Death from the skies, indeed!

  25. SplendidMonkey

    “And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. “

  26. Steve

    The New Jersey object is strikingly similar to industrial hammers/grinders/chipper “teeth”. Look at

    under the “replaceable tips”. I would call it a match (or maybe this is part of a goverment website to throw us off). And I am sure they get hot while in use. I would take a walk in the neighborhood….daylight hours only.

  27. Part of a power line… or something like that. No one is flying a 10 lbs ingot of steel into space, it would be a HUGE waste of money. What would it do up there?

    Also, the claim that it was too hot to touch for 30 mins is probably wrong. In 30 minutes, an object like that could go from red hot to touchable. Plus if it were actually red hot to start, it would have caused burning where it landed.

  28. Now I can take some small solace, if I’m ever fed through a woodchipper, that a piece of it may break off and brain one of the goons disposing of me.

  29. Bill

    Naked Bunny: “I blame Urkel.”

    Always a good policy.

  30. Trebuchet

    >Durnett: Someone has been playing with his catapult…

    I resemble that remark!

  31. Cheyenne

    OK now that made me laugh!

  32. This begs the question, if this is from a wood chipper, “How much wood could a wood chipper chip, if a woodchipper could chip wood, because clearly, this wood chipper could chip wood without the wood chipper wood chipy thing?”

  33. CodeWeaver

    I don’t post often, but I love the site.

    Question: How many stars are there close enough that we could see an event of this nature? I guess it would be a combination of the proliferation of this particular star in our vicinity and the likelihood of it being near the end of its life… anybody have a back of the envelope guess as to how often we’d see this?

    OT: Phil, I agree with Grant:

    I’m also seeing a banner on the top *and* an advertisement on the side for this “California Psychics”.

  34. Donnie B.

    Actually, Michael, there’s no evidence the chipper chipped any wood after it flung its flange.

  35. Thanny

    I live in NJ and my back yard is a forest. Too many people know nothing of NJ but the strip of asphalt between NYC and Philly and down the eastern coast. And that includes the residents who live in those areas.

  36. MadScientist


    I thought the same thing: looks like something flung by a trebuchet. Fetchez la vache!

  37. BTW the psychic ads have been blocked. Not too many bad ads get through the Hive Overmind’s web minions, but if you see one email me, and I’ll let them know.

  38. SplendidMonkey Says: “‘And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper.’ ”

    I’m glad someone said it.

    – Jack

  39. CR

    Man, I have to check in more often; others have already beat me to this! I was guessing a trebuchet for the stony object. (Why not a catapult? Trebuchet is just a cooler word… and a cooler device, for that matter.)

  40. Ross

    The CBS 42 site has a video ( ) with much better images of the “meteorwrong” – there’s clearly no fusion crust and it sure doesn’t look like any stony meteorite I’ve seen before. From the picture it looks like some variety of carbonate. It’s about the right size to be riprap or some other construction fill; maybe it fell from a passing dumptruck. If it had fallen from space I doubt there would be much of a car left.

  41. Kevin Conod

    Our planetarium is only a few miles from where this thing fell and we are a bit gun-shy about meteorites given the fiasco over the Freehold “meteorite” a year and a half ago. *That* one turned out to be space junk.

    *This* hunk of metal shows no sign of re-entry. This looks at bit beat up but one would expect at least some surface melting.

  42. Kevin Conod

    PS Hey now the next BABlogger that makes a crack about Jersey will be wearing some cement boots and sleepin’ wit the fishes! Capiche? 😉

  43. The explanations put forward by numerous commenters turned out to be correct: It was a missing tooth of a gigantic mulching machine. And it isn’t the first time that happened.

  44. IVAN3MAN

    Phil Plait:

    BTW the psychic ads have been blocked. Not too many bad ads get through the Hive Overmind’s web minions, but if you see one email me, and I’ll let them know.

    I don’t know about everybody else here, but I find that IE7 is very effective at blocking annoying adverts — I do not get any!

    Whereas with Firefox (3.0.6), I get coming through! 👿

  45. Sceric

    I’m not absolutely sure, but could it be, that there is a foundry nearby?? I know that if you have scrap-metal with condesation on it and throw it in the furnace, you get flying scrap metal. I don’t know, if that explains the “hot” part.
    As I haven’t read all comments, I hope I didn’t repeat something.

  46. If anyone ever took a basic geology class, they would know that the rock in the video there is NOT from space. Also, if it fell from any height (even one foot) it would have done more damage to that car. At terminal velocity, a rock like that would hit 400 mph easy… And it would smash right through the car.

  47. Gary Ansorge

    California psychics are way cooler than other states psychics because they’re ,,,(wait for it),,,


    ,,,as opposed to being merely fried,,,

  48. Sman

    It is difficult to discern in the video, but the Alabama stone looks similar to a chunk of stromotoporoid. Is anyone aware of any better photos?

  49. J Hall

    Just discovered this article and it solved our mystery here in Bellingham Washington. 2 weeks ago we had the same object penetrate our steel roof and land inside our plant. Until now we had no idea what it could be. Speculated on several ideas one of which was a wood chipper that is located 1000 yards away. Seems strange that it could toss a 5lb piece of metal high enough to pierce a roof but the proof is in the hole! Thanks for the answer. Seems someone should be looking into the safety of wood chippers, it landed about 50ft from our crew.

  50. Timothy from Boulder

    CNN has a video report of yet another “mysterious metal object” falling from the sky and through the roof of a home in Dallas. Interviewed family member told it was a piece of the Cosmos/Iridium collision.

    Photos pretty clearly indicate that it is …drumroll… a badly worn tub grinder tip.

    Is it me, or is this happening *way* too frequently?

    And doesn’t CNN have the internet?

  51. J Hall

    Forget CNN how about our safety inspectors…OSHA where are you? Out citing someone for standing on the top rung of a 4’ladder? Look up before someone gets killed!

  52. Gaston

    Réellement très sympa tout cela !


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