Meteorite hits in Lorton Virginia

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Jan. 21 2010 1:36 PM

Meteorite hits in Lorton Virginia

Artist drawing of an asteroid entering Earth's atmosphereA small meteorite, about the size of a tennis ball or so, crashed into a Lorton, Virginia doctor's office on Monday, according to several reports including one in the Washington Post. No one was hurt, but there was some damage -- not surprising, since it must have hit at a couple of hundred kilometers per hour (it's a Hollywood myth that small rocks hit at huge speeds with flames drawn out behind them; they slow down to highway-like speeds while they are still dozens of kilometers off the ground). The Maryland Weather blog has a picture of the interplanetary interloper -- there's a clear fusion crust (the blackening of the surface from heat), which is a giveaway it's a meteorite.

There were hundreds of eyewitness reports of the fireball reaching as far north as New Jersey, so the rock must have been traveling southward. There may be other pieces along the path, most likely near where this one hit. I wonder if there were other people who may have seen small debris hit but haven't put the story together? If you live in that area (it's actually near where I grew up, which is neither here nor there, but still makes me faintly jealous) then keep your eyes and ears open for any stories. It's still pretty rare to be able to collect specimens from recent falls, making this a very valuable find-- both scientifically and financially!

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Tip o' the Whipple Shield to Bill Smith.

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