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10 Meteorites with Quirky and Scary Backstories
About 1,800 space rocks plow into Earth’ ‘s surface every year. Most remain hidden or don’t have particularly odd stories to share. But some are downright bizarre or pose a particular brand of danger. From the only person to be killed by a meteorite strike to the cosmic rock that contained a comet, here are 10 remarkable shooting stars to read about today.
Related: Top 10 Bizarre And Deadly Exoplanets
10 The Doorstopper
In 1988, David Mazurek bought a farm in Edmore, Michigan. As the outgoing owner showed him around the property, Mazurek noticed a rock sitting against the shed’s door. Intrigued by the object’s strange appearance, he asked about it. Without a shred of doubt in his voice, the seller told him that it was a meteorite. One night in the 1930s, he and his father witnessed it blazing through the sky before it hit their property. Incredibly, he gifted the rock to Mazurek.
For the next 30 years, the meteorite remained a doorstopper on the farm. Eventually, Mazurek heard about other people selling small pieces of meteorites for good prices. Since his rock weighed 22 pounds (10 kg), he had it appraised at Central Michigan University.
Now called the Edmore meteorite, it turned out to be a spectacular space rock with a considerable amount of nickel. Not only was it one of the biggest to ever smash into Michigan, but it was also incredibly valuable, both money-wise and scientifically. Mazurek ended up selling his doorstopper to Michigan State University’s Abrams Planetarium for a cool $75,000.
9 The Maryborough Meteorite
In 2015, David Hole decided to go metal detecting in Maryborough Regional Park near Melbourne, Australia. This area falls in the Goldfields region where, during the 19th century, the gold rush reached its peak. So when Hole found a strange red rock with a dimpled appearance, he was convinced there was gold inside. Acid baths, drills, and an angle grinder failed to open the rock. As a result, Hole gave up and went on with his life.
A few years later, his curiosity was piqued again, and he took the object to the Melbourne Museum to be identified. The “gold” turned out to be a super-rare, 4.6-billion-year-old meteorite.
A diamond drill finally removed a chip, which revealed the rock was a chondrite meteorite. The latter is characterized by a high percentage of iron and crystallized metallic minerals called chondrules. Weighing a hefty 37.5 pounds (17 kg), it became the second-largest chondrite ever discovered.
The rock was so old it had formed when the solar system had no planets. Over time, it likely joined countless debris in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter before something knocked it out of orbit and put it on a collision course with Australia. Hole was incredibly lucky these events lined up over the eons and delivered the primordial fragment where he could find it.
8 The Driveway Meteorite
In 2021, thousands of people saw a massive fireball streaking over the United Kingdom. The Wilcock family, who lived in Winchcombe, heard a rattling noise outside their home, but since it was already dark, they only investigated the following morning. That was when they found something strange in the driveway. Scattered across the pavement were small, dark objects resembling barbeque briquettes.
The smashed bits belonged to the first meteorite to land in the UK in 31 years. It was also such a rare carbonaceous chondrite meteorite that it shocked the expert who visited the family. The rock was about 4.5 billion years old and formed long before Earth was born. What makes it so valuable, however, is that the meteorite has remained virtually unchanged throughout the ages, giving researchers an amazing opportunity to study the early solar system.
7 This Meteorite Was Weaponized
Around 1873 or 1874, archaeologists found an iron arrowhead near a lake in Switzerland. At the time, they didn’t understand the significance of their find, and the old artifact was forgotten in a museum collection. Recently, researchers dusted off the rusty arrowhead and ran a few tests.
Incredibly, the new study revealed that 3,000 years ago, someone fashioned the arrowhead from iron that came from a meteorite. Immediately, the researchers suspected the material would match other pieces from the so-called Twannberg meteorite, which impacted near the area where the arrow was found. However, the analysis showed it wasn’t a Twannberg fragment.
Instead, it’s now believed the iron came from a meteorite that smashed into Estonia around 1500 BC. To have reached Switzerland, it revealed something historians never knew—that people in these regions were unexpectedly trading meteoric iron as far back as 800 BC.
6 This One Hit a Pillow
One night in 2021, a Canadian woman named Ruth Hamilton awoke to the frantic barking of her dog. Suddenly, there was an explosion, and drywall debris rained down on her. Thinking that her home was being invaded by a particularly violent burglar, she quickly called the emergency services. But while on the phone with the police, Hamilton noticed a fist-sized rock between her pillows… and a fist-sized hole in the roof.
When the police arrived, they suspected that a nearby construction site might’ve performed a detonation and inadvertently blew a rock at the woman’s home. When they visited the area, the officers learned that no detonation had taken place. However, the construction crew did hear a booming noise and also witnessed an explosion in the sky moments before Hamilton had made the call. It soon became clear that a meteorite had crash-landed in her bed. This was not only an extremely unlikely event but also a very lucky escape for the homeowner.
5 The First Meteorite Fatality
An average of about 17 meteorites hit the earth’s surface every day. Remarkably, there is no credible modern record of anyone being struck and killed by a meteorite.
However, in 2020, old documents in a Turkish archive proved that this space record wasn’t so bloodless. According to these papers, on August 22, 1888, a large fireball lit up the night sky before meteorites rained down on a small village in what is now Sulaymaniyah, Iraq. This bombardment lasted about 10 minutes, and two men were struck—one died, and the other was left paralyzed.
There’s no doubt that the event happened. While the rock is now missing, the three documents are extremely convincing, seeing that they were official letters written by local authorities, including a grand vizier (a chief officer of state), to report the event to the government.
4 Lethal Mid-Air Encounter—Almost
In June 2012, a group of skydivers jumped from a plane over Rena, Norway. Anders Helstrup was among them. Mounted on his helmet were two cameras, and this was fortunate, as what followed was not just deadly, but few people would’ve believed the tale.
When the plane was 2.29 miles (3,700 m) in the air, Helstrup lept out and opened his parachute at roughly 0.68 miles (1,100 m). Moments later, something whizzed by him so fast that he almost missed it. Little did the skydiver realize that he had been inches away from a gruesome death.
Experts reviewed the footage, and the object was quickly identified as a meteorite in its “dark flight” stage. This is when the incoming fireball flames out, and just the rock remains. While Helstrup now holds the honor of being the only person to film a meteorite during this stage, one geologist who looked at the size and velocity of the rock had a more sobering message. He called the skydiver “insanely lucky” because if the 11-pound (5-kg) rock, which traveled at 186 miles per hour (300 km/h), had hit Helstrup, it would’ve cut him in half.
3 Minerals Unknown to Science
When the El Ali meteorite was discovered in Somalia in 2020, it was already something special. Usually, upon discovery, meteorites are small and weigh just a few ounces or pounds. This space rock was 16.5 tons (15 metric tons).
Researchers identified the boulder as an Iron IAB complex meteorite, meaning it consisted mostly of meteoric iron sprinkled with flecks of silicates. But between all the silicon compounds and metal lurked something unknown that would soon take everybody’s attention away from the meteorite’s monster size.
The bonus discovery was revealed after a sliver of the rock was removed and examined. Under the microscope, human eyes saw for the first time not one but two minerals that had never been encountered before. They were eventually named elaliite and elkinstantonite.
2 The Meteorite Comet Hybrid
Comets and asteroids share the same cradle. Both formed from the ring of dust and gas that once orbited a very young Sun. What set them apart and also contributed to their different composition and appearance is the distance from the Sun that they were “born” at, with comets typically appearing farther away.
In 2019, researchers sliced open a meteorite. Discovered in Antarctica’s LaPaz Icefield, it was identified as a sought-after chondrite meteorite. But this one was unique even among chondrites because it contained something unexpected: a tiny fragment of a comet.
About three million years ago, an asteroid captured the grain of carbon-rich material from which comets form and encapsulated it, preserving the speck in pristine condition. At some point, the asteroid broke up, and the piece that contained the comet entered Earth’s atmosphere and smashed into Antarctica as a meteorite.
1 The One That Came Back
When a black rock was discovered in Morocco in 2018, it was identified as a meteorite and given the dull name “Northwest Africa (NWA) 13188.” But this 1.42-pound (646-gram) piece was anything but boring.
When scientists examined the rock’s materials and radiation levels, they realized two things. The meteorite came from Earth, and it drifted in space for thousands of years. In other words, the rock formed on Earth and then was somehow propelled into space, where it drifted for millennia before re-entering the earth’s atmosphere and landing in Morocco.
NWA 13188 is the only meteorite known to have achieved this extraordinary round trip. But what shot the rock into orbit in the first place? This remains a mystery. Its composition suggests it was formed by a volcano, but it is unlikely that an eruption had the power to put NWA 13188 into outer space. Some researchers believe that an impact from a large asteroid could have been strong enough to fling the earth rock into the solar system.