A boy claims he was hit by a meteorite

By Phil Plait | June 12, 2009 11:52 am
incoming!

A 14 year old German boy is claiming he was hit by a meteorite. If true, this is quite a story!

Let me be clear to start: it’s entirely possible that this story is in fact real, and the boy was struck by a meteorite. The odds of it happening are very low, but not zero (a woman in Sylacauga, Alabama was hit in 1954), and while it’s good to be skeptical of things like this, there’s no reason to automatically assume it’s baloney.

However, the way the story is reported almost certainly has some of its facts wrong.

First, the headline: "14-year-old hit by 30,000 mph space meteorite". Bzzzzt! Wrong! If it had been moving that fast a direct hit would’ve killed him. That speed is about ten times faster than a rifle bullet, and had it actually hit him at that velocity a rock the size of a pea would’ve torn a hole through him the size of a basketball. Now, it’s possible the meteorite simply barely grazed him, but the article isn’t clear.

Second, there’s no way it was moving that fast to begin with. Meteoroids — the solid bit of rock, iron, ice, or whatever — move very rapidly in space relative to the Earth, but decelerate savagely as they ram through our atmosphere. Still 100 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, a meteoroid that size would slow within a few seconds from hypersonic to subsonic speeds, then basically fall the rest of the way to the ground. It would be moving at maybe 200 kph when it hit the ground, not 50,000 kph as claimed in the article.

Then things get really confusing. The article claims the boy was hit first, then the object hit the ground, carving out a one-foot crater. I’m having a hard time with that: if it hit the ground hard enough to blast a small crater, then it should’ve done a whole lot more damage to the boy than cause a three-inch scar. I suspect that, if we take the crater and all that at face value, it hit the ground first and then he was hit by shrapnel.

The article says this was confirmed to be an actual meteorite:

Ansgar Kortem, director of Germany’s Walter Hohmann Observatory, said: “It’s a real meteorite, therefore it is very valuable to collectors and scientists.”

However, my friend the Dutch science writer Govert Schilling talked to Kortem who is claiming he never saw the meteorite and was misquoted. Interesting. While this doesn’t negate the story, it does cast some doubt on it.

The boy says the piece was "magnetic", but I suspect he means attracted by magnet, since that’s a common way to say it. That means it’s iron, which is common enough in meteorites… but also in misidentified terrestrial objects, as well. Still, it’s entirely realistic to think this may have been a real meteorite.

So let’s assume this is all real. How can we make sense of this? I have an idea that fits all this.

What I suspect may have happened is that a larger meteoroid, maybe a meter or so across, came screaming into our atmosphere and exploded. This does happen: the fierce ram pressure of it moving through the air compresses the object and breaks it up, and then each piece of that breaks up from the pressure, and so on, with each breakup dumping energy into the air. At some point this happens so fast it’s essentially an explosion, and the object gets blasted apart.

In this case then the boy would’ve been hit by a smaller piece of the meteoroid moving much faster than the usual few hundred kph of terminal velocity, because it would’ve been accelerated by the explosion. Again, it’s likely what actually hit him was shrapnel from the ground, and not the meteorite itself (unless it grazed him). The article doesn’t say if they found the meteorite in the crater or not, but assuming they did my idea makes a lot more sense.

But the story is maddeningly light in important details! How soon after the flash of light was the boy hit? What made the bang, the actual impact? Or did he hear it seconds before the impact? He says the flash and bang were after he felt the sting in his hand, but I wonder. Eyewitness reports are notoriously unreliable. I wish we had other witnesses to this event! It says this happened on his way to school; I would expect other kids would’ve seen this as well!

I have received a lot of emails and Twitter notes about this, and a lot of folks doubt the story as a whole, and are asking about parts of it. So to be brief my take is this: the story is plausible that this boy was the victim of a meteorite impact. He may have been grazed by one, or hit by shrapnel when it hit the ground. This could have been a piece of a larger object that exploded in the air, heating up and propelling lots of smaller pieces, one of which caused the event. If this happened close enough to the ground the explosion could have knocked him down as he claims. But the lack of details in the story — like other eyewitnesses — makes the actual event difficult to pin down. Hopefully we’ll get more details soon.

Comments (117)

  1. Alex

    I love that they say “the chances of which are only 1 in a million” like 1. they know 2. those odds are even remotely close to what the real odds would be.

  2. Phil Golden

    There is a book by Wil Hobbes for tweens released this year where the subject is just missed by a meteor. Wonder if it was translated into German??

  3. John

    Was just about to send this article in to you to debunk too…

  4. Tim G

    This is the same damn boy who, one year ago, claimed he corrected NASA on the risk of an asteroid impact.

    :-P

  5. Is there a way to contact or follow up with this guy;

    Ansgar Kortem, director of Germany’s Walter Hohmann Observatory, said: “It’s a real meteorite, therefore it is very valuable to collectors and scientists.

    You figure he’d be the go to guy to see if the event happened.

  6. Tim the Archmage

    Considering that there are > 6 billion people on Earth today. If it were only one in a million, wouldn’t we have a few thousand cases to compare to?

  7. Clearly it was a fiero-class ufo. The engine caught fire and the whole thing blew up, sending shrapnel down to the ground. The lack of important details simply points to a coverup.

  8. Fracture

    To be pedantic (as I so love to be), the odds of it happening are 1:1. The woman in Sylacauga has set those odds. The odds of it happening to any particular individual are very low.

    Also, my take is the same. I buy that the kid fully believes he was hit. It’s unlikely it can be verified, but I’m happy to give him his fame. I won’t hassle him over +/- a meter.

  9. Fascinating story, if true. Thanks for the info, Phil. I hadn’t heard it yet.

  10. suziqb77

    I agree with you. Look at the impact from the Peekskill Meteorite. It left damage! I really think that maybe the boy was struck mainly by the ejecta. How neat to have seen something like that though!!

  11. VandyBoBandy

    Thanks Phil! I was one the people in Twitter that spammed you for your opinion on it. I was thinking it was shrapnel from the crater as well. Hope you have a nice weekend!

  12. The piece was “magentic” hey? I suppose it attracts pink stuff?

  13. @ioresult

    You beat me to it!

    Phil, you may want to change “magentic” to “magnetic”…

  14. Now boy will make a website about this story and get some cash for a summer vacation. Also he can sell this meteorite on eBay :-)

  15. coolstar

    Wrong, again, surprise, surprise. Meteors “airburst” at heights never lower than several kilometers, so any fragment would again been going at terminal velocity when it hit the ground. geez, louise.
    The “crater” IS suspicious however.
    Maybe we’re seeing a variant of what I told my spring Solar System class after showing the iconic image of Mrs. Hodges: “if a meteorite falls next to you, immediately pick it up and throw it against your leg as hard as you can”.

  16. German readers may refer to the original article from Tuesday that the British and then U.S. media somehow ‘discovered’ only today (without doing any investigating of their own) – and the flood of (largely devastating) comments it raised. I’m having a local meteorite expert investigate the story.

  17. Brain.wav

    @Tim G:
    You sure about that? The NewScientist article doesn’t name the boy, but the report they link names a “Nico Marquardt” as the kid. This kid is not that kid.

  18. Phil – here’s an article with photos of the boy’s hand, the alleged meteorite and part of the “crater” which is really just a discoloration on the ground.

  19. Y

    The real question is what super powers did the boy get after being hit?

  20. See, this is what I like about Twitter. I read the article, thought it looked a bit light on reality and sent a message (as did a lot of other people) to Phil. Phil checked on it, including verifying the article’s sources (something the Telegraph should have done to begin with), and reported back. Twitter seems to help complete a much-needed feedback loop in news reporting, especially when it comes to fact-checking.

  21. llewelly

    However, my friend the Dutch science writer Govert Schilling talked to Kortem who is claiming he never saw the meteorite and was misquoted. Interesting. While this doesn’t negate the story, it does cast some doubt on it.

    What will you say when the lad turns up with mutant superpowers? Huh? When Meteor Man throws dinosaur-killing flaming space rocks about with ease, I imagine you’ll change your tune.

  22. Hi Phil (gee, I’m commenting on commenting other than HST, exoplanet environments, or solar eclipses…).

    Your quite right, of course, but to nip-pick just a couple of ball-park numbers (not to give any credence to article):

    >Still 100 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, a meteoroid that size would slow
    >within a few seconds from hypersonic to subsonic speeds…

    100 km up it might not (yet) be that size, but still ablating, so there larger. It then likely would not transition to subsonic speeds until quite lower, and possibly even still be going a few thousand miles per hour at something like 10 miles up. At about that point it would stop ablating and no longer be luminous, and begin the “dark” part of its descent having very rapidly reached terminal velocity of a few hundred miles per hour., falling “slowly”, and “cooly” to the ground. (Of course, without enough mV to make the claimed “crater”). But, heres another bug-a-boo. The story says: “I just I just saw a large ball of light, then a split second after that there was an enormous bang like a crash of thunder.” As the speed of sound is about 770 miles per hour at sea level (or about 660 mph ten miles up where it should have gone dark)… well, you can do the math. It could (as you point out) have been a fragment of a larger parent body, but there may be a even simpler explanation to the apparent discrepancies: It was in the Telegraph!

  23. Pics or it didn’t happen.

    Though pics, doctors reports and more astronomer sources would be nice…but at least one pic would due for starters.

  24. If the kid wants to make real money, he should say that he was struck by a piece of space junk. Then he could sue NASA for reckless endangerment and emotional suffering. It’s the capitalist way.

  25. I’m always suspicious of stories like this. You’re right — there’s not nearly enough detail in the article; but then there never really is.

  26. Troglodyte

    The Daily Fail, much as I hate their science reporting, has pictures. Looks like it grazed the back of his hand.

    Might be legit, I’ll leave it to Phil.

    Link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1192503/Close-encounter-rock-kind-Schoolboy-survives-direct-hit-meteorite-travelling-30-000mph.html

  27. Darren Garrison

    # 19

    “See, this is what I like about Twitter. I read the article, thought it looked a bit light on reality and sent a message (as did a lot of other people) to Phil. Phil checked on it, including verifying the article’s sources (something the Telegraph should have done to begin with), and reported back. Twitter seems to help complete a much-needed feedback loop in news reporting, especially when it comes to fact-checking.”

    Now if only someone would invent something that allows you to send longer messages to people. Like mail, maybe, only electronic.

  28. Bob Stephens

    A picture from the original article can be found at:

    http://www.derwesten.de/nachrichten/staedte/essen/2009/6/10/news-122286237/imageshow.html?resourceId=picture23923142

    The crater looks suspiciously like an old pothole. The scar on his hand looks healed. He doesn’t appear to have acquired any superpowers unless you count the ability to heal quickly.

  29. I am 99% sure this story is a hoax. Too much things don’t ad up.

    For one thing, given the size of the small object, the “crater” is much too large.
    Second, the whole “red hot glowing & burning his hand” part is wrong.

    Phil: a meteorite this small is quickly slowed down by air friction and will *never* land with considerable speed. The breakup-proces you describe takes place at 15-25 km altitude or more! By the time this tiny piece has come down, it is clearly subsonic in speed.

    The whole description confirms to the Hollywood movie image of a “meteorite impact”, not to what really happens at the impact of such a small meteorite. To me, this suggests it was all made up.

  30. JoeSmithCA

    Popsci has a picture of the the boy, his injury and the rock–no picture of the crater.
    I dunno… I think the kid is embellshing his story or believes what happened was a meteorite impact.

  31. JoeSmithCA

    @ Darren
    Someone should go a step further, have a website we you can post articles you’ve written yourself and allow people to post comments!

  32. Zyaama

    I just checked the German sites reporting this. One correction: Ansgar Korte (not Kortem, according to the article) is quoted as saying „Ist es tatsächlich ein echter Meteorit, dann hat das Exemplar sogar einen gewissen Wert für Sammler und Mineralogen.” That would correctly be translated to “IF it is a real meteorite, it would have a certain value for collectors and mineralogists.” (http://www.derwesten.de/nachrichten/staedte/essen/2009/6/9/news-122291315/detail.html) So he would be correct in claiming that he never said that this really is a meteorite.

    A picture of the boy and the so-called crater can be found in the original story: http://www.derwesten.de/nachrichten/staedte/essen/2009/6/9/news-122286237/detail.html

    If there was a meteorite, it hit the street. No crater, but maybe somebody can judge if the discoloration of the asphalt could be caused by something like a meteorite.

  33. At least we know about this ‘meteorite’… it looks like future ‘incoming events’ that don’t reach the ground will be suppressed for ‘national security'(?)

    http://www.space.com/news/090610-military-fireballs.html

    Mail delivered electronically, the ability to write to the World Wide Web? You pie in the sky dreamers!
    ;)

    J/P=?

  34. Intersting, but I’m sceptical as like Phil says, the details a bit sketchy. I also agree with @JoeSmithCA pictures would improve the chances of this being taken more seriously.

  35. Tim B

    @Todd W: “Clearly it was a fiero-class ufo. The engine caught fire and the whole thing blew up”

    *snort* From a former firefighter, thanks for the laugh and the memories. Nothing like getting a call for a car fire and showing up to find a sparking puddle of plastic.

  36. Tim B

    Forgot to mention that claims of the meteor being “red hot” make it more likely this is a hoax. Despite what you would think is common sense, they really aren’t hot at all on impact.

  37. Greg in Austin

    @Zyaama,

    Judging just from the photograph, I call hoax. That “crater” appears to be filled with the same color of sediment (sand and dirt) as the rest of the street, as if it has been there for months or years.

    But, it is hard to tell from a single photograph.

    8)

  38. I think all we’ve set to prove here is that journalism is horribly unreliable and sensational.

  39. Jere Kahanpää

    “just I just saw a large ball of light, then a split second after that there was an enormous bang like a crash of thunder” – makes me wonder if it could actually have been a lighting strike? That would match the facts (including the crater) better than a meteorite.

  40. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    A 14 year old German boy is claiming he was hit by a meteorite. If true, this is quite a story!

    I dunno, boys claims stuff all the time. Now, if a dog would have made a similar claim …

  41. One word: shenanigans

  42. bob

    Am I the first to say clearly; THE BOY IS A LIAR!

  43. Disturbed

    everyone knows lightning strikes don’t happen without clouds, so we can rule that out completely. sheesh.
    seriously though, that does sound like a better explanation to me. but to hit him with shrapnel hard enough to cut him, wouldn’t it have to have been exceedingly close?

  44. ND

    “Now, if a dog would have made a similar claim …”

    There was a flash and something hit me and it hurSQUIRREL!

  45. Memory’s a funny thing. Many studies show how changeable and inaccurate memory is – even for people who directly witnessed or involved in deeply distressing/significant events.

    The boy may well remember exactly the reported sequence and nature of events, but that’s not to say they’re what actually happened (no hoaxing required). It might well be a meteorite that hit the ground and fired a bit of shrapnel at him, as Phil suggested. It would all have happened rather quickly, and a dramatic sequence of events is likely to be what forms as a memory.

  46. Kurt

    Assuming it’s not a hoax, I can think of one possibility for allowing his hand to get hit from something other than shrapnel…

    What if there were two pieces of the same meteorite… a larger one with enough mass to cause the crater, and a much much smaller piece which grazed his hand. If only the larger piece survived the impact with the earth, it’s not unreasonable that a 14 year old would assume it was the piece that hit him.

    I’d imagine anytime a meteorite comes through the atmosphere it breaks into at least dozens of smaller pieces all of which are not the same size and all traveling essentially the same trajectory.

  47. Rick

    The order of events seems right. See the light, feel the pain, hear the sound.

    But one would think that the light would be followed by a very long stretch of time where nothing would be sensed. Wouldn’t it like be trying count the time between a very distant stroke of lightning and the arrival of the thunder?

    Then the pain, followed apparently instantaneously by the sound, which would mean the fragment was traveling a little above Mach 1, no? Just a grazing blow, but that doesn’t explain the crater. The grazing was then shrapnel from the original impact?

    We need more info. Certainly there must be others within 400 square miles who would have seen something.

  48. Rick

    Calculate the Odds

  49. daveb

    - and (Space) Aliens Ate My Buick…….

  50. Hevach

    I’m looking at the pictures in the daily mail, and that “crater” bugs me. I have about a dozen similar markings on my street where the city drilled holes through the road to access an abandoned sewer line and then stuffed the fragments back in and filled it with concrete.

    It looks old. The depressed areas are flat and light like set cement, not dark like fresh cement (as if it were recently patched after having been broken), and it’s also flat, unbroken, and irregular within the circle, which doesn’t look like any sort of impact or break, be it a meteorite or a hammer. The raised areas match the road surface around them, but seem to have worn edges (you can especially see what I’m talking about in the close up of his hands showing the burn and the stone, the edge of the “crater” is close up at the edge of the picture. I don’t think that’s a new feature of the road.

  51. Bo Babbyo

    I remember seeing a reprint of the newspaper story about the Sylacauga woman. The headline was something like, “I was hit by a falling star.” And that was — what — forty years ago?

    We are due, my friends.

    This is a really good case study for skepticism — very similar to studies in randomness. A human being trying to create random numbers would never DARE to put a hundred consecutive numbers in series. But in genuinely random numbers, it is inevitable. And so it is with human beings, meteors, and topographical square footage. In the grand scheme of things, the highly unlikely is not impossible, but a genuine certainty.

  52. Tim G

    Brian.wav (#17),

    He changed his name as a cover up! He’s obsessed with the media and space rocks. Don’t be surprised when we stumble across an article next year that reads “15 year old German boy claims Earth to be hit by small asteroid.”

  53. ppnl

    The Gods must really hate… Germany?!?

  54. daveb

    OK, I e-mailed the German Scientists quoted in the original article for an explanation (and clarification) yesterday….
    The reply follows: Note the last line….

    Typically a meteorite fall happens as described below:

    A piece of rock or metal from space collides with the atmosphere of our planet. Due to the
    high speed in the range of 30 to 80 kilometers per second the friction between atmosphere
    and the object from space heates the object up to shining bright glow. In a height of about
    100 km the Object begins to glow: The meteor appear in the sky. In a height between 20
    and 40 km all the kinetic energy is depleted and the remaining object – if existing – falls
    further down to the ground like a common stone or piece of metal. Because of this long-
    lasting flight through the atmosphere such a small object as reported in the last days has
    enough time to cool down to ambient temperature.

    Given by this facts it appears to be very unlikely that the occasion reported a few days ago
    was caused by a meteorite.

  55. After the Syllacauga case from 1954, there has been another hit by the way. On August 14 1992 a boy was hit during the Mbale fall in Uganda. A small 3 grams fragment hit a banana tree first, and being slowed down this way then hit a boy.

  56. John

    Is this a reasonable simple whilst still accurate approximation of the odds of being hit by a meteorite?

    Surface area of Earth = 510072000000000 metres squared.
    Assume average surface area of ground covered by each human around 1 metre squared.
    Population of humans = 6.783 billion.
    Say around 20,000 meteorite strikes a year.

    So odds of any one individual being hit is 1 in 5.1*10^14
    Odds of any person being hit at any time = 1 in 75199
    And odds of any person being hit in one year = 1 in 3.76

    So we can say every 3.76 years one person is hit by a meteorite.
    Seems fair to assume that in the information age we would hear of something like this happening occasionally.

  57. Brett

    Your math is assuming a uniform distribution of people across the surface of the earth, doesn’t take into account that the world’s surface is 75% water, and is assuming “no cover”. Because of that, I think it overestimates the frequency of a person being struck. It’s not a bad start, and I believe it probably has happened more times than have been reported.

  58. clear thinker

    Where is the picture of the damage to his hand? In Meteor Crater Arizona they never found the meteor and look at the size. This kid gets hit in the hand and then digs the meteorite out of the crater. Something wrong with this story.

  59. John

    Yes, distribution and population density also need to be taken into account. I’ll leave that to the statisticians.

  60. What is really sad is that in much of the United States, the sky has become so polluted by scattered light from our “civilization”, that we can no longer see meteors. I used to love to sit outside on clear nights and watch the sky. It was wonderful and rather humbling. Now all I can see is the moon (which I am thankful for), and the brighter planets. Kids growing up now never get to experience that any more. The grandeur of the universe is lost on them. So very sad. Plus all the light going up into the night sky is WASTED energy. In these times of energy crunches, and possible global warming due to our belching tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, you’d think idiot governments would regulate industry and businesses so that energy at least isn’t wasted ruining the night sky.

  61. Wasn’t there a cow killed several years ago by a meteorite? Maybe in Austrialia? Seems like I remember that…I do see several inconsistencies here. A large iron meteoroid could easily slam into the ground, creating a crater (i.e. Meteor Crater in Arizona), however anything as small as a pea or even rock sized would slow to terminal velocity, roughly between 120 to 200 miles per hour – and a small body might even be slowed down considerably more than that. So while I believe he might have been struck, I can’t see that it would have had enough kinetic energy to have caused a crater. The explanation offered, that the meteor hit the ground and kicked up some “schrapnel” which hit the boy seems much more likely. Now if I could just get a rather large meteor to fall on the Capitol while Congress is in session…

  62. Phil Whitmer

    The kid is very obviously lying. The dynamics and physics of meteorite impact events have been known to science for quite some time. Almost every aspect of this bogus story violates a law of physics. Seriously, in the Age of Google, how could anyone believe such a silly hoax? Even sillier is the way the media treats this phony story as fact, it’s almost beyond belief. Check out Meteorite Central’s archives for a debunking of this hoax.

  63. First of all, let’s forget all the nonsense in the “official” story. It’s total hogwash. However, looking at the pictures, the “meteor” looks like it could be genuine. The mark on his hand looks plausible for the size of the meteor and the speed I would expect it to be traveling. Also, this is *not* the same boy who “corrected” NASA on their asteroid collision calculations, so we can rule-out any publicity-seeking monkey business on that tack. The boy may have actually been struck on the hand by a meteor, which then, through impetus added by the news media, accelerated to 30,000 MPH, exploded and blew a basketball-sized hole in the ground.

  64. David

    Maybe this guy just burned his hand on an iron. The evidence of a meteor in the story, either other witnesses mentioned or physical evidence, it pretty non-existent.

    Certainly more fun to tell your friends you were hit with a meteor than you had an accident frying an egg, and then it spirals from there to the gullible international press. How embarrassing for all of humanity.

  65. nomuse

    I’m glad to see I got within the ballpark the first time I commented. The light had to be the breakup, and the fragment that hit can be assumed to be subsonic. But in re the “red hot” (which it almost certainly wasn’t) is there anyone here who knows how a grazing impact with a high velocity object effects tissue? Is it possible it scraped across his skin, and the combination of friction and the “yank” simulated the look and feel of a burn? Seems to me I’ve had similar encounters with power tools that were spinning quickly but weren’t that hot.

  66. NelC

    Careful, Ross, discussing extra-terrestrial threats to the government; you might start a War Against Meteorites.

  67. khms

    Ok, let’s take a look at what seems to be the original article. The link has been given several times, but let me repeat it once more:

    http://www.derwesten.de/nachrichten/staedte/essen/2009/6/9/news-122286237/detail.html

    Article claims “Zehn Zentimeter lange Brandwunde” – burn wound of about four inches. The picture, however, suggests something on the order of one inch to me … maybe that’s indicative of the quality of journalism involved?

    One commentator claims to visit the same school; he says that the last name is missing an ‘e’, that the boy is indeed in the school grade claimed because he skipped two grades (and has since had a birthday so is now 15), and that he’s made at least 800€ from the story so far.

    There’s also the claim that he first cooled his wound, then the stome with some ice tea he had along; I gather it seems unlikely a meteorite as small as shown would be hot enough to be any serious problem, though …

    The “crater” also doen’t look particularly convincing … and one wonders why the journalist didn’t take a close-up of the hole.

    Anyway, a nice story to explain why you’re too late to class.

  68. Ross wrote:
    “Wasn’t there a cow killed several years ago by a meteorite? Maybe in Austrialia? Seems like I remember that”

    @ Ross: you are probably referring to the Valera fall in 1972 in Venezuela. That indeed killed a cow.

  69. JOHN

    WHAT A TRIP…….UMMM FAR-OUT

  70. Phil

    Phil Plait may be an astronomer, but judging from his article, he doesn’t know much about meteorites, other wise he would have easily disproved this hoax. These phony stories are quite common and they almost always have the same details. Lie #1: The hoaxers invariably say the meteorite was: red hot, smoking hot, white hot, to hot to touch, etc. In this fake story, it’s implied the rock was so hot it burnt the boy’s hand. (Looks a lot like a cigarette burn to me.) As anyone knowledgable about meteorites will tell you, they’re COLD when they impact the earth. The smaller they are, the colder. You have a better chance of getting frostbite than a burn from them. Why is this? Because outer space is really chilly, the cosmic background temperature of space is -455 degrees F. Only a very thin outer layer of the rock, a mm or two gets heated up by ram pressure, NOT friction. The ram pressure creates heat that flows around the stone causing ablation and the resulting fireball. Which brings us to Lie #2: In the hoax stories, the meteorite is always flaming all the way to the ground. This would only happen if the meteorite is a very large one, definitely not a pea sized one. One this small would have flamed out in the upper atmosphere. Lie #3: There’s always a fake crater in the hoaxes. This particular story tries to pass off a filled in pothole as an impact crater! (LOL!) A meteorite this small would make no crater whatsoever.

  71. Phil

    Meteorite crater formation is determined by the size and velocity of the impactor. The diameter of the crater is directly proportional to the cubed root of the impactors kinetic energy. D ~ E^(1/3). The kinetic energy is determined by the formula: KE = (1/2)mv^2 . Plug in the terminal velocity speed (less than 200mph, more likely about 55 mph) and the mass of the stone (less than a gram). You don’t need to do the math, common sense will tell you there will be no crater and definitely not enough of a shock wave to knock you off your feet. There was a recent stone meteorite fall in West, Texas where multi kilo stones were recovered and there were no craters formed. Chondrite (stone) meteorites generally don’t make craters unless they’re very large, like the recent one in Carancas, Peru. Also a stone this small wouldn’t be going fast enough to break the sound barrier, so there would be no sonic boom this close to the ground. If this was really a meteorite fall (NOT) you might hear a small pop as the stone smashed into the pavement and broke into tiny fragments. Judging from the photos, this didn’t happen.

  72. A couple of things Phil didn’t mention:
    1. It’s described as a “red-hot, pea sized piece of rock.” It would be extremely unusual for a small fragment like that to remain red hot after traveling through the Earth’s atmosphere.

    2. “The teenager survived the strike, the chances of which are just 1 in a million…” How did they calculate those odds? Because that figure doesn’t correspond with either the odds of being hit, or the odds of surviving the hit. Since there are around 10 billion people in the world, and only 2-3 known cases of people being struck, by my not-too-advanced arithmetic that makes the odds of being hit closer to one in a billion. However since everyone who has been hit that we know of has survived, the odds of survival would seem to be to be very close to 1.0.

    3. They bother to show a picture of the kid but not the scar? What’s the point of the photo?

    4. Here’s an interesting semantic question for Phil and other astronomers: In space, it’s a meteoroid; flashing across the sky it’s a meteor; and on the ground it’s a meteorite. Does the last name change apply only after it has physically touched the earth, or just something associated with the Earth, like a human being? In other words, using language correctly, was the boy actually struck by a meteor, or a meteorite? (assuming that it hit the kid first, then the ground, as claimed).

  73. Phil (76 and 77): Did you read what I actually wrote? Because I am very skeptical this claim is real. I do propose a way it could be which negate several of your claims, but I also raise many questions about it. And if you read my blog posts about meteors and meteorites you’ll see that I know quite a bit about them. Why not do some research before insulting me on my own blog?

  74. Adam

    Shouldn’t there be a bunch of witnesses to both the sonic boom and fireball?

  75. Phil

    Phil, Of course I read what you wrote. No way am I insulting you, after all you’re a real astronomer and I’m just an amateur who works in a small Earth & Space Museum you never heard of. I’m sure you know way more about meteoritics than I do. However I am in constant contact with the public who bring in their meteorwrongs along with an outrageous story. If I can spot this BS from a mile away, I would assume a real astronomer also could. On the Meteorite List at Meteorite Central, frequented by NASA scientists and some of the world’s leading experts on all aspects of meteoritics this story was immediately dismissed as a hoax and they won’t discuss it, as it’s too silly for serious comment. What I’m trying to do is be a voice of reason, as this BS story metastisizes like a cancerous meme throughout the new media. BTW, I haven’t read much of your blog, just this post, but I will check it out, I like what you’re doing from what I’ve skimmed. As for you’re being a skeptic; I quote your first sentence: “Let me be clear to start: it’s entirely possible that this story is in fact real, and the boy was struck by a meteorite.” Now, let me be clear, unless they’ve changed the laws of physics governing the mechanics of meteorite entry and impact formation, there’s no way in H, E, double hockey sticks that this kid is telling the truth. He’s making the whole thing up. If I’m wrong and the stone is microprobed by a Meteoritical Society approved lab, and turns out to be a carbonaceous chondrite (judging from the close up photo) and it gets an official published name from the Nomenclatural Committee, I’ll eat my hat and post the video on Youtube.

  76. jsw

    the odds are more like one in a billion then, one in a million as someone wrote on this blog!

    Most meteors brake up when entering the earth, so the poster here “John’ numbers have z e r o baring on reality! 99% of the ones u see in the sky, don’t make it to the ground.

    Hitting a human, is not too likely at all. It is much more likely that a piece from plane will hit you. The closer u r to the airport
    the odds go up. (take off and landing)

    I have a 5.5 lbs meteorite in my home, and let me tell u if this hit any part of a human
    at even 200mph, forget about it. My guess it does come fall much slower then the 50k mph as when it first enters earth, but somewhat more then only 200 mph.
    Don’t think the boy would have much of a hand left!

    It is made of iron but much more dense then iron found here on earth, plus other extra material not found on this planet!

    While I just read in this piece that a lady was hit in 1954, i have spoken to people here in nyc who
    know ‘a lot’ about this subject. It is said that no human has EVER been hit by one directly.

    In fact the person I spoke to friend, was the curator of the natural history museum (from the movie night at the museum). He paid $10k just a an old VW Bug that was hit by one upstate NY!

    the guy i bought one from has hundreds, and is worth a fortune. they all fell on one day in Africa in the 1830’s. the people who picked them up thought they were from the gods. no one was ‘person’ was hit by one, with thousands falling in this region that day, INTERESTING.

    I have a feeling that this is a made up story from this boy. If it were an old lady, I would believe it more then a young boy who may have an interest in meteorites. Without photos of his hand, and the hole in the ground it is just non sense.

  77. jsw

    The reason that nyc scientist paid $10k years ago, for that old worthless VW, was it was the only known HUMAN MADE object, directly hit by one !

  78. Jenny

    Meteroid = small rock in space; meterorite = after it has fallen to ground; meteor = not the rock at all (shame on you German scientists!) but the glowing trail of air behind the rock where it’s shaved electrons off the gas molecules as it went by.

    Re if it should have killed him, surely you can survive any speed of impact if it just grazes you. This would be very unlikely but not impossible. Might it have felt hot because of the friction as it grazed him rather than its actual temperature? But I’m skeptical too…

  79. Buzz Parsec

    The woman in Alabama was hit indirectly, IIRC. The meteor(-ite?) crashed through the roof of her house and her living room ceiling before hitting her. The boy in Uganda was hit by a meteor that bounced off a tree first. So the claim that no one has ever been hit *directly* by a meteor may be true. But the house in Alabama, as well as two (yes, two, about a decade apart) houses in Weathersfield CT and several other houses and cars and a ship are all *HUMAN MADE* objects that were hit directly by meteors.

  80. khms

    Someone noticed that since today, the original story gives a 404.

    As I wrote on the thread on LibraryThing (which I can warmly recommend for cataloguing your personal library)

    http://www.librarything.com/topic/66690#1330660

    a related article from the same date is still there, though … citing 1:100 million per year being-hit risk. Sounds to me like that number should be larger by a factor of about 3000 (one hit in half a century, as opposed to around 60 per year).

  81. Manu

    Thanks Phil!

    I first heard about this today on a French blog, which reports the story and pics without the slightest critical analysis of even the most blatant implausibilities.

    The scary thing is, it’s a supposedly “science” blog…

    sciences.blog.lemonde.fr/2009/06/13/un-jeune-allemand-touche-par-une-meteorite/

  82. KSK

    Hey, it happened in “Track of the Moon Beast” and turned a guy into a lizard!

  83. Phil, I think you bent over backward on this one not to be too critical. But
    the original story just does not hold up.

    The “meteorite” is pea sized. If it were a meteorite, it must have been the
    product of the explosion/disintegration of a larger meteor many km high
    (small meteorites can’t make it through the atmosphere). It would have
    reached the ground at terminal velocity (which is very small for a pea-size
    rock) several minutes after the high-altitude explosion. It could not make a
    crater or do any damage to an asphalt or cement paved street. It would also
    have been cool (it would quickly equilibrate with the air it was falling
    through). Compare this with the story:

    Speed 30,000 mph — NOT
    White-hot — NOT
    Brilliant fireball — NOT
    Loud sound at time it hit — NOT
    Burned hand — NOT
    Foot-wide crater — NOT

    Add the absence of witnesses or any supporting physical evidence.

    Apparently no one has analyzed the small stone. If they did and found it to
    be a meteorite, I only note that small meteorites are easy and cheap to
    purchase at gem stores or on the Internet.

    I think it is amazing that anyone has given this story credence.

  84. Phil Whitmer

    If you knew nothing about the science of meteoritics and instead got your meteorite information from watching Hollywood movies, then you might believe this crock of baloney. But you must admit, the kid is pulling off a great hoax, P.T. Barnum would be proud! Now that the kid has Susan Boyle like fame, I hope he gets a good agent and cashes in before his 15 minutes is up. His book deal and reality show will probably be about what a great hoaxer he is and how he managed to fool millions.
    Once they finally get around to the microprobing and chemical analysis of the stone, it will be a simple matter to pair it with a cheap eBay NWA, if that’s what it is.

  85. bob

    phil from post 80 said: “If I’m wrong and the stone is microprobed by a Meteoritical Society approved lab, and turns out to be a carbonaceous chondrite (judging from the close up photo) and it gets an official published name from the Nomenclatural Committee, I’ll eat my hat and post the video on Youtube.”

    why does it have to be studied by an approved lab and published in the met bul? wrong classifications work their way into the published literture all the time. EL3s getting written up as aubrites, lodranites originally classified as acapulcoites, winonaites originally classified as acapulcoites, the list goes on and on.

    something being considered as ‘official’ by the meteoritical society doesnt mean it’s true. it just means an author who is a member of the meteoritical society published it.

    jsw: iron meteorites are no more dense than iron you see at the scrap yard. people only THINK they are unusually dense because most people dont go any pick up chunks of iron all the time.

    BTW, you are talking about Al Lang. He bought the peekskill meteorite car. a chevy malibu – not a VW bug.

    phil @ 94 – no need to id it as a NWA. cosmogenic isotopes can be studied providing proof positive that it is a fresh (days old) fall.

  86. Phil Whitmer

    Bob, while the NomCom is not infallible, the 3 or 4 examples you give are the only known cases where they were wrong. A published, named meteorite has been vetted by the best meteoritical experts in the world. In the vast overwhelming majority of cases they are correct in their classification and naming system. If you don’t think they are rigorous, just try getting a meteorite classified. We’ve had over 20 classified, these people know what they’re doing. The problem I have with the NomCom is once they’ve classified and published it’s almost impossible to get them to change their opinion! This however is a bigger problem with pairings and TKW’s, rather than the 3 or 4 cases of mis-identifications that you speak of. Surely you’re not proposing that every Tom Dick and Harry be allowed to self classify and name their meteorwrongs! This would be total chaos. Just look at the nut jobs on ebay with their multi ton moon rocks and phony witnessed falls.
    According to the UCLA Earth and Space Sciences web site, I quote “Iron meteorites have a very high density and weigh about three times as much as earth rocks of similar size; most stony meteorites weigh about one and a half times as much as comparably sized earth rocks.” Meteorites are much denser than comparable earth rocks, you only have to pick one up to know this.
    They must have finally tested the stone and found out it’s not a meteorite because this story has faded away. I’ve seen no new stories about it. Too bad, I was hoping there would be stories about how it was exposed as a hoax.

  87. bob

    Phil,

    I’m not saying that anyone should be able to classify metorwrongs and make them ‘official’ I’m saying that I feel you are giving too much weight to what is ‘official’.

    ‘official’ doesnt mean right, it just means that it is what the meteoritical society accepts as correct.

    did you rename the begga in your collection just because the nomcom decided that anything out of morocco should have a number?

    The process of a meteorite being published is fraught with problems. like not waiting for oxygen isotopes data. remember ibitira? a unique eucrite when it came out. they got the oxygen data and now its an anomalous achondrite. there has been problems in the past with selective analysis of stones to yield desired results ie purposefully using a data set from a polymict eucrite section high in diogenite components to get a howardite classification that doesnt reflect the bulk composition of the stone. and dont forget what one mans sillicated iron may be another mans winonaite with a high metal content! standards are looser than you may think. and just plain sloppyness – I once had an obvious (and it was) ck4 get published as an h6!

    the examples of erronious classifications are by no means the only ones. they were just the first three i mentioned from recent memory.

    I too have had meteorites classified. and I also have meteorites that I am confident of their classification without a formal scientific opinion. I also have meteorites that i’m confident of their classification that have been looked at by researchers but not published (in the case of rare material). There is nothing wrong with self classification, just so long as the process is the same as what is used by the guys in the lab (and not the selective analysis that I mentioned before, since there was a bit of a bruhaha about that not too long ago)

    ps. when i mentioned the density of space rocks, i was talking specifically about iron meteorites. the poster i was commenting on seemed to think that iron meteorites were much more dense than terrestrial iron.

  88. GUY

    i read another article that said the almost exact odds were about 6200 over all in the history of earth if its one in a million

  89. Peer

    The english newspapers invented quite a lot. In the original source it was just said that a small (pea-size) meteroite hits the asphalt beside the boy and the boy had a small injury (scar) on the back of his hand.
    Ansgar Kortes original quote was “If the stone is indeed a meterite, then it has some value for the collectors”

  90. german reader

    I’m not saying I believe all this, but the original German article that started this whole story seems to be a lot more likely. For example, the German scientist is quoted to say, that “IF It’s a real meteorite, therefore it is very valuable to collectors and scientists.”.
    The article also doesn’t say anything about the boy telling he was knocked of his feet or that his ears were ringing for hours…

    http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=de&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.derwesten.de%2Fnachrichten%2Fstaedte%2Fessen%2F2009%2F6%2F10%2Fnews-122779025%2Fdetail.html

    http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=de&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.derwesten.de%2Fnachrichten%2Fstaedte%2Fessen%2F2009%2F6%2F10%2Fnews-122779025%2Fdetail.html

  91. Togan

    Very cool: a famous German blog (bildblog.de), which points out mistakes/errors/crap in German newspapers and their webpages, actually links here in their post about the crap some newspapers are writing about this story :)

    Way to go Phil, you’re now even more famous overseas!

  92. I can’t follow your idea of speed.

    Travelling with 50 000 km/h which is about 14 km/s. So there are at least 7 s to slow down, and the more it is decelerated, the more time there is to slow it even further down.

    What slows it down? Air resistance. On the other side, the gravity increases the speed. a=9,81m/(s*s) close to the earth.
    Just from gravity, airresistance ignored, you speed up to 360 km/h in 10 s just from falling.

    Now imagine a concorde – it doesn’t reach 50 000 km/h, but nearly 2500 km/h in horizontal flight, I guess military jets get a little faster even. Why shouldn’t a rock reach that speed, which travelled much, much faster before?

    Why should it slow down to 200 km/h? Why not stand still, turn around, and fly away?

  93. David S

    What concerns me is the report that the meteorite was “white hot”. Small meteorites are at best warm; NEVER white hot when they reach the ground. There is even a case of a meteorite being coated with ice on a hot summer afternoon!
    The story might be basically true, but it has clearly become garbled along the way.

  94. Phil

    Gosh, I wonder why there have been no more stories about this hoax? Surely the little snickelfritz couldn’t have made the whole thing up? The whole thing was a study in bad journalism and rampant ignorance about science and physics.

  95. Phil Whitmer

    Finally the kid has been exposed as a liar! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrit_blank

  96. Phil Whitmer, that’s going too far. There is nothing new in that wiki article, so you cannot say “Finally”, as if there is new evidence there. While I agree with what’s written in the article, it’s still not conclusive the boy lied.

  97. Phil Whitmer

    Phil: What will it take to convince you this kid is lying? Surely you must know about the laws of physics governing meteorite entry and impact. Let’s start with this: http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/impacteffects/. A pea sized meteorite simply will not make a crater no matter how much you want to believe it will. Your theory about a larger meteorite breaking up and smaller pieces gaining velocity is simply wrong! They slow down, they don’t speed up upon break up. There was no crater, and there was no meteorite. Unless of course, they forgot to photograph the crater. Oops! I’ve already covered the physical impossibilities point by point. You on the other hand have provided no evidence as to why you want to believe this tall tale. Why do you want to believe this obviously false story? Give me the science behind your erronous beliefs. If there was a meteorite, it would have been on the fast track to identification and classification. This hasn’t happened for obvious reasons. There have been no new articles about this kid. Instead of taking his place in the annals of meteorite history, the kid has faded into a well deserved oblivion.

  98. Phil, where do I say I want to believe or that I do believe this story? What I do say is that the evidence is thin, contradictory to a lot of known science. I am also saying that we cannot say he is lying, though it is possible. He may simply have been mistaken on what happened.

  99. Phil Whitmer

    Phil: Your own words: Let me be clear to start: it’s entirely possible that this story is in fact real, and the boy was struck by a meteorite. Also here:and while it’s good to be skeptical of things like this, there’s no reason to automatically assume it’s baloney. And here: Now, it’s possible the meteorite simply barely grazed him, but the article isn’t clear. And again here: In this case then the boy would’ve been hit by a smaller piece of the meteoroid moving much faster than the usual few hundred kph of terminal velocity, because it would’ve been accelerated by the explosion. Again, it’s likely what actually hit him was shrapnel from the ground, and not the meteorite itself (unless it grazed him). The article doesn’t say if they found the meteorite in the crater or not, but assuming they did my idea makes a lot more sense. This theory is just junk science. All this sounds like you really want to believe this nonsense. I’m still waiting for some real science to back up your belief in this silly story.
    Seriously, if this is only the third person in history to ever get hit by a meteorite, wouldn’t the supposed stone have been identified by now? What could possibly be taking so long?

  100. Phil

    Gerrit, meet Siobhan. I liked her hoax better, she was hit by a Martian iron(!) that miraculously rusted instantly.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/sci/tech/2218755.stm

  101. Arch Stanton

    Yeah, I just heard about this through a probability website —

    http://bookofodds.com/Accidents-Death/Natural-Disasters-Hazards/Articles/Danger-Falling-Objects

    — and while it’s certainly possible, the physical details don’t seem to add up at all. Considering the speed at which it would have hit him (waaaay slower than 30,000mph, for sure), it wouldn’t have had near the kinetic energy needed to create a one-foot crater.

    And, IF it had hit him at, say, three or four times bullet-speed, his hand would’ve been decimated.

    I say the whole thing stinks.

  102. Bellers

    Some thoughts:
    A cold projectile could could still create high temperatures if something slows it. In the ultimate case of the projectile being stopped dead, almost all of its KE is transformed to heat (in some sense KE, where all the atoms are moving in the same direction, and Temperature, where all the atoms are moving in random directions aren’t that different). The burn on the hand is plausible. It is even plausible that the post-impact meteorite was hot.

    It is possible that the chap, Gerrit Blank, retrieved a normal bit of grit from the road because the impactor had disintegrated.

    It is possible that the mark on the road had been there prior to the incident, but went unnoticed.

    Receiving a shock could induce visual disturbance, cause legs to give way, perhaps auditiory hallucinations etc. That the subject’s account seemingly contains errors does not mean that it was fabricated—he was just trying to make sense of what he experienced.

    Higher velocity projectiles don’t necessarily cause more damage to flesh than slower ones. Less coupling can take place at higher velocities. Think about this… a high velocity projectile hits a human and carries on out the other side. A slower projectile hits a human and fails to pass all the way through. Which transfers most KE to the human? It is not straightforward.

  103. Starfly

    Sorry, i didn’t read all comments so i don’t know if someone mentioned it already:
    “Ansgar Kortem, director of Germany’s Walter Hohmann Observatory, said: “It’s a real meteorite, therefore it is very valuable to collectors and scientists.””

    He did not say that. It’s a wrong translation. He said “”Ist es tatsächlich ein echter Meteorit, dann hat das Exemplar sogar einen gewissen Wert für Sammler und Mineralogen.”” which would mean “When it is a real meteorit it would have value for collectors an scientists”. He did not say it IS a meteorit. He just told some info about what would be when it is really a meteorit.

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