Meteorite hits in Lorton Virginia

By Phil Plait | January 21, 2010 1:36 pm

Artist drawing of an asteroid entering Earth's atmosphereA small meteorite, about the size of a tennis ball or so, crashed into a Lorton, Virginia doctor’s office on Monday, according to several reports including one in the Washington Post. No one was hurt, but there was some damage — not surprising, since it must have hit at a couple of hundred kilometers per hour (it’s a Hollywood myth that small rocks hit at huge speeds with flames drawn out behind them; they slow down to highway-like speeds while they are still dozens of kilometers off the ground). The Maryland Weather blog has a picture of the interplanetary interloper — there’s a clear fusion crust (the blackening of the surface from heat), which is a giveaway it’s a meteorite.

There were hundreds of eyewitness reports of the fireball reaching as far north as New Jersey, so the rock must have been traveling southward. There may be other pieces along the path, most likely near where this one hit. I wonder if there were other people who may have seen small debris hit but haven’t put the story together? If you live in that area (it’s actually near where I grew up, which is neither here nor there, but still makes me faintly jealous) then keep your eyes and ears open for any stories. It’s still pretty rare to be able to collect specimens from recent falls, making this a very valuable find– both scientifically and financially!

[Update: Nancy Atkinson has video on Universe Today, too.]

Tip o’ the Whipple Shield to Bill Smith.

MORE ABOUT: meteorite

Comments (59)

  1. Isn’t the Discovery Channel starting a series on guys who hunt out meteorites? And yeah, worth quite a bit of money! Wish I could find a few!

  2. NewEnglandBob

    Did Lorton, Virginia then declare war? Or are they wimps who are just going to take it? 😉

  3. Yup, that definitely looks like the real deal! :-)

  4. This is God’s way of punishing Massachusetts for the vote on Tuesday.

  5. Mike C.

    My wife saw the event from Randallstown, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore, and now has a cool memory. I am so jealous.

  6. It’s obvious that ‘THEY” are aiming for you, Phil, but that their spacial and temporal aim is off as they A ) didn’t hit where you use to live and B ) they fired at a time when the light reaching them indicated you lived there. With a little back tracking and trajectory analysis you could figure out where “THEY” were when they shot at you.

  7. Brian

    This is a confirmed meteorite which makes it only the third time in history (as far as I know) where a meteorite has struck a building. It’s lucky nobody was hurt.

  8. This begs a question from me: Has anyone ever seen a meteorite hit? I mean, actually witnessed the impact itself? Seems like that would be one of those “gosh, ain’t nature grand, but from a distance” sort of moments.

  9. Johno

    I have it on good authority that the Lortonians made a pact with the devil a couple of hundred years ago. Expect a lot more meteorites in the coming weeks. 😉


  10. Darren Garrison

    Larian LeQuella Says:

    “Isn’t the Discovery Channel starting a series on guys who hunt out meteorites? And yeah, worth quite a bit of money! Wish I could find a few!”

    Yep. They hang out here. Join up!

    Other list members are already on site or headed there– where there is one meteorite, there is likely a strewfield:

    (Yesterday’s Rocks From Space is especially drool-worthy, too):

  11. Jon Hanford

    #8 kuhnigget “Has anyone ever seen a meteorite hit?”

    Ask Ann Hodges, she was hit by one! ( )

  12. Aww man….why couldn’t it have hit Fairfax! Preferably where I work! :-)

  13. Darren Garrison

    Brian Says:

    “This is a confirmed meteorite which makes it only the third time in history (as far as I know) where a meteorite has struck a building. It’s lucky nobody was hurt.”

    Brian, you are a very long way from correct:

    (I am lucky enough to own a few crumbs of Kobe):

  14. Art

    That thing messed my racket up pretty badly. Do I have a plausible lawsuit against the manufacturer, or should I sweep this one under the rug?

  15. shawmutt

    I wonder if he’s going to turn into a manplant now. ( for anyone who doesn’t get the reference)

  16. Gepinniw

    What would a meteorite like this be worth?

  17. Brian @ 7 –

    At least 4 in the US alone… The two Wethersfield, CT strikes (a decade apart!) and one in Alabama in 1954. For a big list, click my name.

  18. Melissa

    I was going toward White Marsh in Baltimore County, MD & saw it. It blew my mind. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m excited that I got to witness.

  19. Darren Garrison

    13. Gepinniw Says:

    “What would a meteorite like this be worth?”

    Meteorites have no fixed “worth” like gold or silver. What they are worth to collectors is what collectors are willing to pay. Lots and lots of factors go into that including what type, how fresh, if a witnessed fall, if it is a “hammer”, where it fell (some people collect by if it fell in their country or state), and how much there is. Also in play is how much it costs for the middleman (the meteorite dealer) to get the meteorite– which includes expenses for flying across the country or world and all lodging and such, how much the seller wants for the meteorite, and how much competition there is for it.

    For recent Ones like this– fresh, witnessed falls with hammers and small amounts (doubtful that there will be hundreds of kilos found) available, but which seem to be “common” ordinary chondrites (such as Park Forest and Ash Creek and Buzzard Coulee) recent prices to end collectors have typically ran in the range of 50 to 100 dollars per gram.

  20. Wanda

    Was this around 530pm? I am in Lynchburg and my husband and I saw a light shoot from the sky

  21. I reckon the doctor must have been overcharging…Lets hope he’s learnt his lesson or the next ones gonna be bigger!!

  22. Bill

    …and we’re just days away from when Mars is at opposition. Coincidence? (-;

  23. Elwood

    Cool.. however what caught my eye was that Phil grew up

    neither here nor there

    how very Dr Suess


  24. strx

    Couple hundred Kilometers per hour? I wanna ride on the highways you do.

  25. Mike

    Right along my line of thought strx – only mine was “Never ride with Phil Plait”

  26. Sounds like someone had a serious case of asteroids… :)

  27. That’s awesome! I grew up in Lorton, VA and even went to Lorton Elementary School. Ha! Never thought anything cool happened there (save for prison breaks, but even the prison’s gone).

  28. @ Bill:

    The fireball was seen as far north as New Jersey. Grover’s Mill New Jersey, perhaps?

    Carl Phillips, where are you!

  29. t-storm

    Get Bruce Willis on the shuttle now!

  30. procyan

    I would more easily believe that two Yankee professors would lie than that stones would fall from heaven

  31. michael

    A stone cannot fall from the sky – there are no stones in the sky.

  32. Stanley H. Tweedle

    I saw it on YouTube! Too bad it missed! LOL

  33. Ken

    Huh. I saw it from Dulles VA as I was leaving the office. My first thought was “way cool! A meteor! Wonder where it landed?”. I started to get excited. Alas, my second thought was “OK what’s the probability – real small.”. You see, I saw it from the opposite side of Dulles Airport. I figured it was much more likely to be an airplane’s landing lights that I simply misinterpreted – it looked exactly like that, just falling rather faster than the airplanes landing.

    Oh well. Sometimes skepticism doesn’t quite work out. :-)

  34. With the show Meteorite Men and stories of these things hitting every other week/month… makes me want to go into hunting for them both for science AND financial reasons :)

    Would be awesome to hold something that is as old (or older) than the Earth itself. Oooh and space gems. Cool stuff!

    Whoa, I just had a flash back to my childhood and having seen a flash outside my window. Perhaps there is a rock with my name on it near my parents house. 😀

  35. Brian Schlosser

    With the ever growing number of cheap, hires digital camera running 24/7, it seems like only a matter of time before we get video of an actual impact! THAT would be a thing to see!

  36. Charles

    It appears this one was earlier than ANOTHER one. My roommate saw two fireballs (separated by a minute) headed south…but we’re in Charlottesville. This was around 10pm on Monday. I can’t help but think there’s a connection, but ~5 hours separation in arrival is curiously long.

  37. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Shooting star, shooting star,
    What you are I wonder
    Mesosiderite, ferrosiderite,
    Iron core of long lost planet never to be
    Or just a stony rock?
    I’ve held in my hands
    A protoplanets core
    Differentiated & so much more
    This stone from the sky that struck Lorton hard
    Where did you come from and how far?
    Travelling in space over eons upon eons
    You deserve your own signage all lit up in neons
    Your arrival is amazing coz what are the odds
    That you’d end up crashed here amidst all of us clods?
    But we ‘re glad that your here down on our fair Earth
    And we’re hoping we’ll find you nicely sizeable in girth! 😉

    Great news celebratory verse of sorts. Hope y’all like it. :-)

  38. Les

    I saw a large fireball in the sky on Jan. 18 a little after 9:30 pm from my home in Northeast Tennessee while observing Mars. I am wondering exactly what time the meteorite crashed in VA.

  39. Lou

    saw it just outside of Richmond, VA – 23058. Was leaving the park with the kid.

  40. Michel

    Phew… lucky it was just a tennisball and not a handegg.

  41. J. GROSS

    I live on the Outer Banks of NC, and I saw a flash of bright light across the sky right around 5:30pm on the 19th of Jan. It was beautiful and lasted for a few seconds – it was actually a bright blue/green and I figured the setting sun had something to do with it. I just saw the local news out of Norfolk, VA and they were broadcasting it.

  42. I was traveling from Carlisle,Pa to a small town called Mt Holly on Monday the18th ,about 5:30 in the afternoon,when I saw the meteroite drop strsight down in front of me…it was spectacular….very green and white…and bright!

    Linda Schlosser

  43. Chris

    I saw the same green light shoot from the sky over the mountains in Bedford County Virginia near Roanoke about 5:30. It was spetacular b/c the sun had not set.

  44. Rob Matson

    A reply to post #33 by Ken who saw it from Dulles, VA: You are one of the few who witnessed the fall from a vantage point that afforded a “side view” of the trajectory (the trajectory was from NNE to SSW). As such, you can provide very useful triangulation information if you can recall the approximate slope of the meteor fall relative to the horizon. From your location near Dulles, I would expect the fall to have been from upper left to lower right (as opposed to the near vertical trajectory that those in Silver Spring, Columbia and Washington, D.C. saw).

    If you were viewing a clockface in the same part of the sky as the meteor, can you describe the angle of the descent using the hours of the clockface? For instance, a vertical fall would have been from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock, while a horizontal trajectory from left to right would be 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock. The slope for you must have been somewhere between these two: maybe 11 o’clock to 5 o’clock. If you can estimate it more accurately than to the nearest hour (e.g. 10:30 –> 4:30), please do. The better the accuracy, the less uncertainty in the reconstructed 3D meteor path, and the greater the chances of recovering additional meteorites from this fall. –Rob

  45. Cynthia Helman

    I am so excited to have found an article on Foxnews about a meteorite found in Lawton Va. I knew it had to be the one my daughter and i saw that early evening about 54o p.m. or so. WOW it was awesome
    the bright steam of light with fire trailing shooting out of the the sky , them exploding into a bright light like a little sun and falling to the earth. WOW. I’ve been thinking about it since it happened wondering if it landed not far south from my home in Owings Mills Md. Funny it just seemed so close. Not that Lawton Va is very far away but it looked so close. To all that saw it we should feel fortunate.

  46. Eric

    A reply to #49,while I didn’t see it from the side angle in Dulles, I did get a very good look at it from Cloverly MD north of Silver Spring. From my perspective it was moving right to left in the southeast sky to the left of the brightness from the already set sun. I estimate it was decending from vertical at 2 0’clock I saw the meteor explode and break into at least three, possibly 5 pieces. Prior to the explosion, the meteor and the trail it left behind was a golden yellow. When it exploded new colors appeared and trailed from the different pieces: red, blue-green and yellow. The meteor pieces definitely changed track, taking a more vertical path after the explosion. I estimate the explosion was at about 20 degrees above the horizon. I know where I stood when I saw it, and there is a large pine tree which could be used to calibrate the positions in the sky where this occurred.

  47. Jim

    If you could give your lat. and long. exactly were you were standing your observation would be very usefull in determining a position of the fall. Even better, using a compass and that tree you mentioned, measure the magnet compass direction towards(azmuith)the point were you first saw it and the point were you last saw it, along with an estimated angle above the horizon at each of those points. The best way to estimate the angle above the horizon( the altitude) is to hold your pinky finger at arms length and use it as a sight gauge, this will be very close to 2 degrees. You can do the same thing with your fist, across the knuckles will be about 10 degrees.

  48. brian

    I found two pieces of the Jan 20, 2010 meteor that hit the Doctor Frank Ciampi office in Lorton. How do I know it is it? Well I saw it come down burning through the trees. Forgot to go get it and than all the stupid Al Gore global warming snow came down and down and down. So I had to wait until it melted. Also I am a geologist and the rocks are magnetic, no visible grains and no crystallization.

  49. sam

    i saw this when it happend. the streek was a blueish silver color and i saw it for no more than a half sec but i could not belive it was that close and i just now saw the show meteorite men and i rembered seeing it :p…. well i made my wish and i hope to see a nother
    but my location is franklinton nc

  50. sam

    also just b4 i saw the bluish streek my eyes were drawn to somthing kinda glowing and when i my eyes hit it thats when it was blue

  51. greg

    does any one know how i would go about getting possible meteorites tested to find out if they are meteorites??

  52. CRAIG H

    I heared this morning,that a mertoerite hit the moon last night, not very much on the news,but have found some evidance,of this beening true,and also other,placers are experianceing,mertorite showers. Its a sign.

  53. Jim H

    I saw this thing while driving home from work In Conestoga, PA. I thought it was much closer to where I was based on the size of the fireball. I called 911 and logged a report of “something falling from the sky”. It seemd much larger like a small airplane or other space junk.


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