The sky is falling!

The sky is falling!

The sky is falling!

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Feb. 18 2009 12:55 PM

The sky is falling!

Speaking of weird stuff falling from the sky being mistaken for other things, we have two stories today, one from New Jersey and the other from Alabama.

In Jersey, this thing fell out of the sky this morning and smashed through a warehouse roof:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Metal that fell into a new jersey warehouse

What the frak is that thing? They say it made a huge noise as it tore through the roof, and was too hot to touch for a half hour.

It's obviously not natural, but what is it? It's metal, so maybe it did fall from orbit. Unlike meteorites, which slow rapidly in the upper atmosphere and cool the rest of the way down to the ground, manmade objects deorbiting can still be hot when they hit; they start at lower angles to the air and don't necessarily slow as rapidly (this thing looks dense, so its weight-to-surface area is high, meaning it won't slow as much). Could it be from a satellite or rocket launch? Maybe. We don't know enough yet to be sure. However, I very much doubt it's from the satellite collision last week, since there simply hasn't been enough time to see much orbital decay from the shrapnel.

[Update (19:00 Mountain Time): From the comments, we may have a winner. Looks like a grinder tip to me. How it feel through the warehouse roof with such a high temperature is another issue...]

Rock that fell from the sky and hit a car
The second object is rock of some sort, which an Alabama man claims fell from the sky in early February and hit his car. However, looking at the rock I don't think it's a meteorite. They don't have layers like that one does; it looks like a sedimentary rock or even a metamorphic one, neither of which describes stony meteorites. It's big, 20-30 cm across, so it's hard to say from whence it came. A nearby explosion, slag from a factory (it happens), or even just plain old hoaxery. The owner claims he'll send it someplace for analysis, so eventually we may find out.

If anyone hears follow-up news to these stories, please let me know or leave a comment below!

Tip op' the Whipple Shield to Doug Troy and the Hive Overmind's own Amos.