I will rain iron and brimstone upon Texas…

By Phil Plait | February 27, 2009 9:29 am

You know, if I were the equivalent of Jerry Falwell or Fred Phelps, I might wonder what scientific sacrilege Texas had committed to be the victim of so much debris falling from the sky. First the fireball, and now a heavily battered piece of metal which dropped into a house the other day. I first heard of it when someone sent me the link to an alert in Hungary, of all places (you gotta love an Emergency and Disaster Information Service that has a listing for "Cosmic Event"). But when I read the copy, the description was familiar…

A Dallas, Texas family got a rude surprise when they came home Wednesday [Feb. 25]. They discovered a gaping hole in their roof, another hole in a bedroom and a chunk of metal on their kitchen floor. It was described as a 6-pound piece of metal with two drill holes in it.

Six pounds? Two holes in it? Wait a sec, that sounds like the grinder tip that fell on a New Jersey warehouse last week!

Metal that fell in Texas

Sure enough, Dallas News picked up the story , and the picture they posted (small version shown here, click to embiggen) clinches it.

That’s no meteorite, no piece of satellite debris. Despite it being a lot more worn and slagged, it’s obvious that it’s another grinder tip, a large piece of metal that acts like a giant tooth in an industrial grinder. I’m guessing that these things move at high speed around a belt, and sometimes dislodge, flinging them high in the air. What amazes me is timing! We have two of these flying through buildings a thousand kilometers and roughly a week apart, which is small number statistics but implies that these things happen fairly often. But the tip is big, and heavy, and flies at high speed; you’d think that if this were a common occurrence we’d see a few people getting killed by them! After all, these grinders are not in the the middle of the ocean, they would be in populated areas, where living, breathing targets are abundant.

So either this doesn’t happen all that often, or that even in densely populated areas we’re still rather spread out, making us hard to hit. Or maybe people don’t report it very much… but with all the news about death (or really bad bruising) from the skies lately, maybe we’ll hear more.

So if a giant lump of metal with two hexagonal holes in it slams through your house and scares your cat, send me a note. Or send one to Fred Phelps. After all, he’s the one who says God hates slags*.

* Note for you UK folks: in the U.S., "slag" is a piece of industrial dross, throwaway metal leftover from various processes. However, given what it means on your side of the pond, this joke takes on another meaning which matches Phelps’ even better, making me laugh even more.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, DeathfromtheSkies!

Comments (49)

  1. Best. pun. post. evar.

  2. Also: weirdest coincidence ever.

  3. Brian

    As I limp away from the scene of the carnage, picking pun schrapnel out of my chest, all I can think is, “God hates frags.”

  4. elyograg

    At least it wasn’t a jet engine from the future. That’ll ruin your whole week.

  5. “All industrial grinders must operate within a containment vessel consisting of but not limited to 30-cm thick internal walls of Inconel 686 (corrosion resistance) with meter-thick external walls of super bainite (fragmentation containment). Problem solved and children saved. Pay for it with a modest and “temporary” five penny increase in sales tax nationwide. (Hastelloy C-2000 may be substituted for Inconel 686 if their lobbyists are sufficiently, ah, sincere.)

  6. Another Brian

    Oh, please, can you stop it with the puns already? God hates gags.

  7. Todd W.


    At least it wasn’t a jet engine from the future. That’ll ruin your whole week.

    Only if you start seeing 6′ tall dead bunnies.

  8. Pieter Kok
  9. vancemac

    It wasn’t the same chipper/grinder but may have been the same manufacturer, put together by the same worker on the same day after a night of partying all night. I’d hate to be the operator of those things. That would hurt even if it didn’t hit you in a vital part of your body.

  10. Must be our day to take on idiocy. I just ranted about Jindal and McCain…

    Phil, I love this post — especially the puns!!

    God hates Frags… good one!

  11. Bill

    Thrace has had a pretty rough time of it on BSG lately. God hates CAGs.

    *ducking and running

  12. David Lentini

    On the other hand, maybe that’s why people in Texas believe so much in that fire-and-brimstone stuff!

  13. I would like to extend a warm welcome to our Grinding Overlords!

  14. Ultron just lost a tooth, no biggie.

  15. Kyle

    It was a wood chipper tooth. http://www.star-telegram.com/804/story/1228471.html

    Had no clue what those things used to grind a tree down, that’s some serious metal.

  16. Essaar

    Beginning of end of the world.

  17. That’s no meteorite. It’s not even a meteorong!

  18. IVAN3MAN

    Oxford English Dictionary:

    slag noun 1. Stony waste matter separated from metals during the smelting or refining of ore. 2. British informal, derogatory. A promiscuous woman.
    verb (slagged, slagging) 1. To produce deposits of slag. 2. (slag off) British informal. To criticize abusively.
    — ORIGIN. Low German slagge, perhaps from slagen, “strike”, with reference to fragments formed by hammering.

  19. Old Muley

    I once saw a guy trying to pass off something like this that had crashed into his lawn as proof of “alien technology”. On closer inspection the object in question was a tooth from a stump grinder…

  20. OtherRob

    Wasn’t “slag” the derogatory term for aliens in AlienNation? Fred Phelps would them, too, of course.

  21. Timothy from Boulder

    I originally left a comment over on the The Sky is Falling post about CNN’s video report of the incident. I thought it telling that everyone assumes a hunk of metal from the sky must be from a satellite. The girl who’s bedroom it punctured opines that it’s from the Cosmos/Iridium satellite collision (because that’s what she’s been told).

    Other reports that I’ve read say that consulted astronomical “experts” remarked that the metal had undergone tremendous heat implying, of course, re-entry. It’s easy to overlook the simple things, mulching trees for months or years produces a lot of heat, too.

    All I know is that I’m going to start watching out for flying tub grinder bits. Duck!

  22. zinfab

    this has all happened before, it will all happen again

  23. QUASAR

    Nice meteorite! What’s the composition of it?

  24. Timothy from Boulder

    The coincidence of the two events happening so closely spaced is even more profound if you read one of the late comments over on the The Sky is Falling post–someone in Bellingham, WA report that a similar grinder tip pierced the roof of his plant 2 weeks ago. The source? An industrial wood chipper 1000 yards away.

  25. Gary Ansorge

    I wonder why we never see chunks of platinum meteorites???

    The real comment should be “Gods hates Texas. That’s why he sends them cockroaches in such numbers,,,and pieces of slag,,,”

    Gary 7

  26. viggen

    Maybe a new piece of a equipment just came on the market and we’re seeing a wave of failures in it because it’s a piece of junk. Just so happens that the failure involves lobbing parts long distances at high speeds. If this is so, the equipment should be recalled before this failure starts causing deaths.

  27. Timothy from Boulder

    “Maybe a new piece of a equipment just came on the market and we’re seeing a wave of failures in it because it’s a piece of junk. Just so happens that the failure involves lobbing parts long distances at high speeds. If this is so, the equipment should be recalled before this failure starts causing deaths.”

    First of all, I’d wager quite a lot that there’s no organization that has the authority to recall wood chippers. While it’s a safety hazard to have hunks of metal flying about, I seriously doubt if there’s any process in place, either governmental or industry-wide, that regulates wood chippers.

    From the looks of the wear on these parts, it’s not a new model of tub grinder, either. These bits have been in service for a while (the one from Texas looks like it was *long* overdue for replacement).

    The root cause is that the bolts that hold the tip in place have failed. Whether it’s because they broke, or that the nut and lock washer came off would be a very interesting fact to uncover. The first would point to defective or substandard manufacture of bolts, the second to improper maintenance.

    From the look of the tip, I’d put my money on the latter.

  28. The “alien metal” angle is definitely something our British friends would read in the Sun.

    God hates rags.

    (late to the party)

  29. !AstralProjectile

    Just who, I wonder, would be mulching brush on a ranch in Texas?

  30. Not just Texas.

    It’s not much more than a month ago, that a decanter centrifuge undergoing test fragmented in Denmark, throwing shrapnel all over the place. The largest part reported in the press was a 33kg fragment flying through the roof of the plant, and landing in a driveway 350-400 meters away. The article (in danish) with pictures can be found here: http://ing.dk/artikel/94951-nabo-til-alfa-laval-beskudt-med-33-kilo-tung-raketcentrifuge-del

  31. Why is it that everything bad seems to occur in trees?

  32. Daniel J. Andrews

    I’m wondering if similar events just weren’t reported. Ten or 15 years back in Ontario two(?) people in a car were killed when a truck in front of them lost its tires and they crashed through the car windshield.

    Every few days after that there was another report of truck tires coming loose and damaging vehicles. It was hard to believe that trucks suddenly started losing tires after a ‘perfect’ record; and a couple of months later when all flying tire reports had stopped it was equally hard to believe it was because of tightened regulations (or tightened nuts and bolts). It was just the latest flavour for the newspapers to report.

  33. Around 6:18pm local time, I saw a nice fireball descend into the Front Range. I’m in Longmont (Pike Road @ Airport) and due West of my position (Left Hand Canyon) there was a nice bolide (I’m guessing) that went behind the mass of clouds forming over the mountains. Was really cool with the crescent moon and Venus also in the picture. I didn’t see any local reports on it, however, but expected to as that’s a common hour for folks to be on the road.

  34. llewelly

    ‘grinder tip’? Nonsense, Phil. We all know that with all those aliens flying around in UFOs, abducting people, hybridising with cows, throwing wild bloodhype-fueled parties at the Nazca lines, and whatever else they do, eventually, a chunk would fall off of one of their saucers. Now it’s happened twice. They’ve gotten lax on their maintenance schedule. Now the truth will start to come out. The government’s secret relationships with aliens will start to leak out onto the internet. More pieces will break off of their saucers.

    ‘grinder tip’, forsooth.

  35. llewelly:

    Maybe the Grays are also in need of an infrastructure stimulus?



  36. Geek Goddess

    After Columbia (and I lived in north Texas at the time), my sense of humor about falling metal bits isn’t quite up to this.


  37. Mount

    Ya know, I would have an almost endless supply of these wear-iron chunks from work if I wanted them. I could get them in many different assortments too. From loaders, dozers, shovels, and other types of equipment. It seems to me that if I were to make a trebuchet or something like that, these bits of grinder teeth and such would make the perfect ammunition. This may just be a case of old fashioned mulukery!

    Of course I would go out far into the woods and shoot at visible targets if I were to do something like that…

  38. LL

    “God hates slags”, that is classic

  39. Greg in Austin

    Reasons this is hapenning:
    1) Its that time of year to start pruning trees & whatnot.
    2) Manufacturing defects – these or some other parts were made at the same time by the same company, or from the same metal forged by the same company.
    3) More publicity because it happened so recently.

    or 4) Aliens also use these same parts on UFOs, and we’re being invaded.


  40. Perhaps someone in Texas built a Trebuchet and is having a lot of fun with it!?

  41. Buzz Parsec

    I for one welcome our grinder tooth alien overlords.

  42. So in the first two months of 2007, we have:
    1) Two nuclear submarines collide in the open ocean
    2) Two satellites collide in orbit
    3) Two meteors fall from the sky in visible, populated areas
    4) A disabled plane lands safely on a river
    5) A non-periodic comet that is visible to the naked eye
    6) Two grinder tips hitting populated structures far from their points of origin.

    This is turning out to be some year!

  43. Retrogarde

    The meteorite in Eindhoven, the Netherlands was real.

  44. blf

    The debris is bits that have broken off the aliens’ Trebuchet. They’re still trying to get it to work. It’s when the 2 metre tall dead bunnies start crashing through the roof that you know its finally working.

  45. Dr. Dennis McClain PhD

    Phil, you make the “common sense” error of assuming that two similar but unrelated events happening close together in time “implies that these things happen fairly often.” They are independent — ie. have no causal link — and so one event occurring has nothing to do with when another occurs. People assume that “average” in this sense is meaningful. It is not, by itself. Equally important is consideration of variance, and its statistical partner, standard deviation. Two such events are as likely to occur simultaneously as they are to occur years apart unless one thing acts on them both making one event affect the outcome of the other. A common example is peoples’ claim that lottery numbers occur too often with two consecutive numbers to be truly random (assuming 5 numbers chosen from 1 through 45, giving the “average” of 9 digits apart). Being independent selections, the lotto picks “1,2,3,4,5” and “1,9,18,27,35” are equally probable.


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