Yankee scientists were right about rocks from the sky

By Phil Plait | April 22, 2010 2:15 pm

What on Earth could have created a hole like this in the roof of a house in Cartersville, Georgia?

georgia_meteor_hole

Why, nothing. Nothing on Earth, that is. Because here’s the culprit:

georgia_meteorite

Yowza. That’s a stony meteorite, and in March 2009 it came screaming down out of the sky and punched that hole! The cube is one centimeter (about a half inch) on a side, and is used for scale. What a great specimen! And it weighs in at 294 grams — more than half a pound — so it’s hefty. It must’ve been moving at quite a clip when it smacked that house, probably a couple of hundred kilometers per hour.

And if you want to see it for yourself, and live near Atlanta, now’s your chance: The Tellus Science Museum will have the rock on display — together with the roof and ceiling under it that got whacked — starting tonight at 6:00 p.m. as part of their Earth Day event.

I wonder if it’ll still be on display when Dragon*Con rolls around… [Update: I heard from the museum; yup. It'll still be on display!]

And if you’re wondering about the post title, then this might help. Given the museum’s location, it seemed appropriate.

Comments (27)

  1. N/T

    N/T is a useful scale; I always write those letters exactly the same size.

    (But seriously, what’s the deal with the N/T on the cube? Why not put a marking on it indicating that it’s 1cm?)

  2. Astrolite

    What is the dimension of the cube sitting next the the meteorite? It make the meteorite looks huge.

  3. “Nothing on Earth”? Then how can it be in a museum in Georgia? :-)

  4. Aerimus

    May have to take a field trip to Tellus with the little one…it’s suppose to be raining this weekend anyway…

  5. Darren Garrison

    “(But seriously, what’s the deal with the N/T on the cube? Why not put a marking on it indicating that it’s 1cm?)”

    See:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/04/16/wisconsin-meteor-update-meteorite-found/#comment-259568

    It doesn’t have markings saying that it is 1 CM because the reference isn’t designed as something as a demonstration for the “lay public”– it is a tool of the trade, where anyone familiar with meteorites already knows what it is. The cube is meant to be placed beside the meteorite while still in situ, with the N, S, E, W sides arranged to be in the correct cardinal directions (and usually, with modern finds, including a GPS device with the screen visible beside it also.) It is a tool for documenting the size and orientation of the piece.

    Here’s a site with lots of meteorites displayed along with a scale cube:

    http://www.niger-meteorite-recon.de/en/Meteoritensammlung_1.htm

  6. Ryan

    About the N / T thing, I believe, from last time I saw one and researched it, they markings are used to indicate positioning. The 6 faces of the cube are marked T (Top) B (Bottom) N(North) S(South) E(East) W(West). This would become more apparent if there were multiple images from different angles.

  7. Annalee Flower Horne

    But why does that roof look like it’s giving me the finger?

    (pareidolia!)

  8. Crux Australis

    @ Astrolite: “What is the dimension of the cube”? Seriously?

  9. Mike

    Nobody makes roofs like that anymore.

    The bigger surprise of this story is that there’s a science museum near Cartersville.

  10. JohnT

    @ Astrolite: “What is the dimension of the cube”? Seriously?

    “The cube is one centimeter (about a half inch) on a side, and is used for scale”

    one inch is 2.54 centimeters.

  11. Gary Ansorge

    8. Mike

    It’s a mineralogical museum and is one of the finest in the SE USA, about a mile from my house. I pass it on my daily walks.

    http://notatlanta.org/tellus.html

    Also remember, Georgia is home to Georgia Tech, which from the number of tech papers I see with their address, is making a solid stab at being one of the finest institutes of its kind(Like CalTech and MIT).

    Just because it’s in the bible belt doesn’t mean it’s inhabited by dummies. After all, I live here,,,

    Gary 7
    PS. That damage looks an awful lot like the hole made in my roof by a falling branch from my neighbors old oak tree. Are you SURE it’s from the meteorite?

  12. naw

    Thanks for talking up for Georgia. And don’t forget VSU down south. We do have a top notch (but small) Astronomy, Physics and Geology department.

    Yea, that looks like it may have been a meteorite that hit it.

  13. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 12. Gary Ansorge Says:

    PS. That damage looks an awful lot like the hole made in my roof by a falling branch from my neighbors old oak tree. Are you SURE it’s from the meteorite?

    Well I’m guessing the bit that’s peeled back and looks cut out – that black plasticky -lino-y covering stuff was NOT the meteorite’s fault but was done by human hands instead! ;-)

    OTOH, that hole punched right through the roof, yeah I’d buy that as being meteorite damage – wonder if the owner was insured for it? ;-)

    BTW. I knew about the Thomas Jefferson quote already but I’m glad I read the explanatory link anyhow – that “thunderstones” formed in clouds could be real after all is something fascinating that I didn’t know! 8)

    EDITED to add : Further research shows Wikipedia (so far) has a different take on thunderstones & no entry on the old “rock formed in cloud” idea but instead has a folklore entry for them saying thunderstones are worked like stone axes or suchlike not seemingly natural :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunderstone_(folklore)

    plus a bit on fulgurites or “petrified lightning”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fulgurite

    - which is sand & rock fused by lightning strikes. Neat. :-)

  14. Mike

    I live in Georgia too. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming to live here, especially outside the perimeter. I’m thankful for the local Science in the Tavern and Skeptics in the Pub at Manuel’s.

    And of course, the Skeptic’s track at Dragon*Con.

  15. The cube is one centimeter (about a half inch)…!!!

    1 cm is 39.37% of an inch.

  16. Keith (the first one)

    Did little bits of it also cause all the tiny holes scattered around the main impact?

  17. Jason


    #17 The little holes are most likely nail holes from having the tar-paper and Shingles nailed down.

  18. JB of Brisbane

    What’s with the timber and tar paper shingles over there? Don’t you guys have concrete tiles or corrugated iron sheeting?

  19. alph

    Interesting. I have a few questions I invite anyone to answer:

    1) Apart from the damage to the roof, is the meteorite also hot enough maybe not cause fire damage, but heat damage inside the home?

    1a) If I came across something like that 5 minutes after it landed, would it still be too hot to handle?

    2) Is damage like that covered under normal house insurance?

    3) Who owns the meteorite? The homeowner?

    4) What would something like that rock be worth if it was sold?

    5) How many rocks that size touch the ground *and* are recovered every year?

    Thanks in advance.

  20. Keith (the first one)

    @18. With such a random pattern that must have been a pretty shoddy builder then.

  21. Darren Garrison

    #20

    1. No. Not only will it not be hot, it may even be cold. There is at least one reported fall, found at the moment of the fall, where frost formed on the broken surface of the stone. Meteorite interiors are the temperature of space at the distance of Earth orbit when they land.

    1a. See above.

    2. I guess it depends on the policy.

    3. Yes.

    4. Tens of dollars per gram.

    5. Not sure about exact average number. More than a couple, less than 50, I’d say.

  22. kevbo

    @ Astrolite: “What is the dimension of the cube”

    Three. It’s a cube, after all.

  23. dave chamberlin

    I read in the prestigious journal The National Inquirer (so it must be true) that for every 100,000 people zapped with a bolt of lightening one person gets a thwack from a meteor. A fat women in a Texas trailer home caught one right in the side and then it bounced a ways and smashed her clock radio. Inquirering minds were shown her really nasty burn mark. I think that was 90 odd thousand lightening strikes ago so beware.

  24. Chris Winter

    Darren Garrison wrote: “The cube is meant to be placed beside the meteorite while still in situ, with the N, S, E, W sides arranged to be in the correct cardinal directions…”

    Thanks for that explanation.

    I knew my original thought was wrong — that it was a cube of trinitrotoluene. ;-)

  25. Chris Winter

    “Yankee scientists were right about rocks from the sky.”

    Indeed they were. But it took parts of the scientific establishment a long time to admit it. John S. Lewis’s Rain of Iron and Ice goes into this in detail. The history of Arizona’s Meteor Crater is one example. IIRC, that book also tells that a meteorite fall in Europe set fire to a stable.

  26. Gary Ansorge

    25. Chris Winter

    “that book also tells that a meteorite fall in Europe set fire to a stable.”

    In those olden days, oil lamps were the main form of lighting, so a rock landing in the vicinity of such could easily start a fire w/o the rock being the least bit warm. I believe the Great Chicago Fire was started by a very cold cow and an oil lamp.

    Gary 7

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