I will rain iron and brimstone upon Texas...

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Feb. 27 2009 9:29 AM

I will rain iron and brimstone upon Texas...

You know, if I were the equivalent of Jerry Falwell or Fred Phelps, I might wonder what scientific sacrilege Texas had committed to be the victim of so much debris falling from the sky. First the fireball, and now a heavily battered piece of metal which dropped into a house the other day. I first heard of it when someone sent me the link to an alert in Hungary, of all places (you gotta love an Emergency and Disaster Information Service that has a listing for "Cosmic Event"). But when I read the copy, the description was familiar...

A Dallas, Texas family got a rude surprise when they came home Wednesday [Feb. 25]. They discovered a gaping hole in their roof, another hole in a bedroom and a chunk of metal on their kitchen floor. It was described as a 6-pound piece of metal with two drill holes in it.

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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Six pounds? Two holes in it? Wait a sec, that sounds like the grinder tip that fell on a New Jersey warehouse last week!

Metal that fell in Texas
Sure enough, Dallas News picked up the story , and the picture they posted (small version shown here, click to embiggen) clinches it.

That's no meteorite, no piece of satellite debris. Despite it being a lot more worn and slagged, it's obvious that it's another grinder tip, a large piece of metal that acts like a giant tooth in an industrial grinder. I'm guessing that these things move at high speed around a belt, and sometimes dislodge, flinging them high in the air. What amazes me is timing! We have two of these flying through buildings a thousand kilometers and roughly a week apart, which is small number statistics but implies that these things happen fairly often. But the tip is big, and heavy, and flies at high speed; you'd think that if this were a common occurrence we'd see a few people getting killed by them! After all, these grinders are not in the the middle of the ocean, they would be in populated areas, where living, breathing targets are abundant.

So either this doesn't happen all that often, or that even in densely populated areas we're still rather spread out, making us hard to hit. Or maybe people don't report it very much... but with all the news about death (or really bad bruising) from the skies lately, maybe we'll hear more.

So if a giant lump of metal with two hexagonal holes in it slams through your house and scares your cat, send me a note. Or send one to Fred Phelps. After all, he's the one who says God hates slags*.



* Note for you UK folks: in the U.S., "slag" is a piece of industrial dross, throwaway metal leftover from various processes. However, given what it means on your side of the pond, this joke takes on another meaning which matches Phelps' even better, making me laugh even more.