Update: meteorite from California fireball recovered

By Phil Plait | October 22, 2012 2:00 pm

[Update to the update (Oct 25): Apparently, the rock found is not actually a meteorite. These things can be tricky to identify, and the first conclusion was mistaken. Bummer.]

[Update to the update to the update; that is, update 3: (Oct 26): OK, see if you can follow along, since I barely can. A rock was found that was thought to be a meteorite from the fireball, and then thought not to be. Well, guess what? It's back on the list! A second rock was found a few kilometers away and identified as a meteorite, which prompted Peter Jenniskens to look over the first one again. He has concluded it actually is a meteorite. At this point, I think I'll hold off re-dis-un-updating all this, and if there's more news, I'll start a new blog post. Thanks to BABloggee Mike McJimsey for the link.]

This is exciting: a meteorite from last week’s fireball over northern California has been found! NBC is reporting a small chunk, 4-5 centimeters across and weighing about 60 grams, struck a house in Novato, California shortly after the fireball was seen.

They’re reporting Peter Jenniskens, a SETI astronomer and meteorite expert, confirmed the find. That’s critical: a lot of rocks are mistaken for meteorites by people (and the media) who aren’t familiar with them. This chunk is small, though, and given how bright the fireball was and how it was seen to fragment, I’d think bigger pieces must have fallen. That area is fairly well-populated – I used to live not far from there and cursed traffic every time I had to endure it – so hopefully more pieces will turn up.

The beauty of this is that because it was seen by several cameras and dozens of witnesses, the path across the sky can be well-determined. That can be backtracked in space to see where in the solar system it came from. And with an actual piece of that asteroid in hand, we can learn more about what conditions are like in parts of space we would otherwise have to send probes to explore.

It’s planetary science, and we get it essentially for free! And we got a really cool light show to go along with it. Everyone wins.

Image credit: Erin Murphy / NBC Bay Area


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MORE ABOUT: fireball, meteorite

Comments (23)

  1. VinceRN

    I want one to hit my house.

  2. Chris

    Does your insurance cover meteorites? Or all they still considered meteors since they hit your house while falling through the air?

  3. Matt B.

    At only 60 grams, I’m guessing it’s carbonaceous.

  4. Thomas Weigel

    Fortunately, it only dented the roof of the house it hit.

  5. Matt: local news reports indicate that it was attracted to a magnet:
    > She summoned her neighbor’s son, the two put a magnet to the object, and they stuck together.
    This is a good indication that it was an iron-nickel meteorite

  6. The Bad Astronomer: It’s planetary science, and we get it essentially for free! And we got a really cool light show to go along with it. Everyone wins.

    Well, free except for the cost of roof repairs. And everyone wins except the guy whose house the thing hit ;)

    @2 Chris Does your insurance cover meteorites? Or all they still considered meteors since they hit your house while falling through the air?

    That’s a good question. From an insurance standpoint, would meteor damage fall under the category of severe weather, or is it just considered normal (albeit extremely rare) wear and tear on the structure? :)

  7. Jon Hanford

    @silence (5),

    Even though a magnet was used to identify this fragment, the CAMS website recommends that it is “better to keep magnets away from meteorites to preserve the natural magnetic field”: http://cams.seti.org/

    Probably better to take suspected meteorite samples to an expert for ID than use a magnet and risk altering the sample.

    (BTW, check out the CAMS link for more pics of the meteorite and subsequent roof damage….not more than a dent)

  8. Squeeself

    Pretty sure that meteorites fall under “acts of God” in insurance policies, and I highly doubt their’s meteorite insurance addons like there are flooding ones :)

    That said, given how rare and (relatively) inexpensive it’d be, I don’t know why an insurance company wouldn’t just cover it anyway and do some crazy advertising about “Meteor crash through your roof? We’ve got that covered.” or some such. I mean, it would fit right into one of those Allstate commercials.

  9. Inti

    It makes me cringe how the comments on the NBC item instantly turned to mindless political rantings.

  10. So… if a meteor falls on your house, is it yours?

  11. My opinion ..In reply to Nick, you bet it’s yours. Just the same as all the rest of the rocks in your yard, which also came from the sky, but a few billion years beforehand.
    and Yes, if you take your suspected meteorite to an “expert” firstly look in the Yellow pages, They’re under ” M”. and secondly to further avoid risk of altering the sample, take pictures, lots of them, and weigh the meteorite before letting it out of your hands.
    Or ….. just say nothing, and put it on your mantelpiece.
    Kilroy.

  12. I live nearby. Glad it didn’t fall on my roof!! On US soil, yes it’s yours. The Meteoritical Society (founded 1933) asks that you donate 20% or 20 grams (whichever is smaller) for research,but it’s all right to sell the rest… unless you live in South Africa, the one place I know where meteorites are protected under National Heritage Law and must be surrendered whole to authorities.

  13. Jay Fox

    If it fell on a rooftop, it’s called a “hammerstone.” For some reason hammerstones are worth a lot more to collectors than ones that fall to the ground. The person who recovered it could sell it for far more than any damage incurred.

    Insurance companies would call the damage “force major” or “an act of God,” and refuse coverage.

    Have it analyzed by scientists, then sell it to the highest bidder.

  14. Matt B.

    Hm, my estimate was right. A sphere 4.5 cm in diameter and massing 60 g would be only 1.26 times as dense as water. If this meteorite is actually metallic, I guess it’s far from spherical and the 4- to 5-cm size is the longest dimension.

  15. CatMom

    Remember the meteorite that hit a parked car several years back? I think the car’s owner sold the car to a museum and got a nice chunk of change in return.

  16. Jon Hanford

    @ CatMom (15),

    That was the Peekskill meteorite, a 12.4 kg chrondrite that was found embedded in the trunk of a Chevy Malibu and was sold for over $69,000:

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

    http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/P/Peekskill_meteorite.html

  17. @8 Squeeself: Pretty sure that meteorites fall under “acts of God” in insurance policies, and I highly doubt their’s meteorite insurance addons like there are flooding ones
    That said, given how rare and (relatively) inexpensive it’d be, I don’t know why an insurance company wouldn’t just cover it anyway and do some crazy advertising about “Meteor crash through your roof? We’ve got that covered.” or some such. I mean, it would fit right into one of those Allstate commercials.

    Bahahaha! That would be awesome! I can just see that “mayhem” guy plummeting headfirst through the atmosphere trailing fire, calmly turning to the camera going “I’m a meteor…”
    *Crunch!*
    *”Meteor” guy lying in the basement in a small crater after having crashed through a Wile E. Coyote-style man-shaped hole in the roof and floor*
    “And if you have some cut-rate home insurance, you could be paying for this yourself.”

    @13Jay Fox: “Hammerstone”? Cool! I wonder where the increase in value comes from? Are they more scientifically valuable because they haven’t embedded themselves in dirt, or is it more of an arbitrary human thing?

  18. Chelsea

    Problem with advertising coverage of meteor hits is that it would bring out the scam artists trying to make false claims for meteor hits.

  19. dcsohl

    Phil, October 25th (the time on your “update to the update”) hasn’t happened yet. That’s tomorrow…

  20. “This chunk is small, though, and given how bright the fireball was and how it was seen to fragment, I’d think bigger pieces must have fallen.”

    Right, why then do you run with the headline ‘meteorite from California fireball recovered’?

    This is obviously just a pebble from that enormous fireball. These things scatter enormous quantities of debris in their wake. Luckily on this occasion, most of it was scattered over the Pacific Ocean. They weren’t so lucky in Louisiana last Monday night.

  21. Local news sources are reporting that additional pieces of the meteor have been recovered, and that the object mentioned in this blog post was in fact a piece of the meteorite after all.

    See http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-news/ci_21854016/novato-womans-find-its-meteorite-no-its-rock

  22. Doug

    VinceRN: No…no you do not. They won’t give you superpowers, and your insurance won’t pay you because they’d consider it “an act of God”.

  23. Jeff

    Did anyone see the fireball heading North to South over the San Ramon Valley? This occurred around 8PM Oct. 26th. It traveled in a similar line as the one mentioned in this blog which I saw as well while walking my dog. I’ve seen shooting stars/meteors before, but have never seen them traveling sideways in a similar path as as an Airliner.

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