Show Object Isn't Meteorite
Saturday, May 12, 2007
of the Journal Star
FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP - The flying
object that came crashing through the roof of a township house in January
was not a meteorite, as initially thought.
Not to worry. It appears
man-made, not space invader-made, according to recent testing, information
about which was released Friday.
"Basically, it's a piece
of stainless steel," said Jeremy Delaney, a Rutgers University
meteoriticist who became involved in analyzing the item Jan. 3, the day
after it fell and when the homeowner notified township police.
The rock-like item was silver
and brown, lumpy but smooth. It was about 2-1/2 inches by 1-1/2 inches,
weighing about 13 ounces.
Because the object had no
specific distinguishing characteristics, "we can't take it much
further" to identify its source, Delaney said. Although it remains an unidentified
flying object, Delaney speculated it was "space junk," or
Srinivasan Nageswaran, whose family discovered the
silver object after it crashed through the roof and into the upstairs
bathroom of his home, was disappointed by the news.
"That's the nature of
science," the 46-year-old information technology consultant said
Friday. "If the conclusion from the test says it's not a meteorite,
then it's not a meteorite. We have to move forward.
"It's still the world's
most popular metallic object that fell from the sky," Nageswaran said.
Debris falls daily.
About 11,000 items of space
debris larger than about 4 inches are known to exist, according to the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration. All told, according to NASA,
tens of millions of space debris items probably exist.
Over the last 40 years, an
average of one piece per day of known space debris has fallen to Earth,
with no serious injuries or significant damage to property confirmed,
according to the space agency.
"Space junk is kind of a
default answer," Delaney said, explaining conventional aircraft would
be eliminated as a source because the Federal Aviation Administration
reported none in the area at the time of the crash.
Peter Elliott, a Colts Neck
metallurgist involved in an early analysis of the object - and who thought
it was a meteorite - suspected space debris when told of the test results.
The item seems to have come
from space because of a triangle-like pattern, suggesting heat, Elliott
said. An item falling from a conventional aircraft at a lower altitude
would not have had the heat pattern, Elliott said.
About a week and a half ago,
scientists viewed the item under a new, advanced electron microscope at the
American Museum of Natural History in New York, then immediately analyzed
the results, Delaney said. By the end of that day, the scientists from the
museum and Rutgers concluded it was not a meteorite, Delaney said.
The item had chromium, a typical
component of stainless steel, Delaney said. A meteorite would have been
basically nickel and iron, Delaney said.
composition is not one we've ever seen (happening naturally)," Delaney
The delay in testing the item
was a combination of arranging schedules of the Nageswaran
family and those of scientists, as well as the availability of the
microscope, Delaney said.
"It's a new tool and
it's very much in demand," Delaney said of the microscope.
On Jan. 2, the item crashed
into the family's home in the Colts Pride development along Route 537. It
went through the roof, then into a second-floor bathroom, where it bounced
off a tile floor and embedded into the wall, according to township police.
Early on, there seemed a
sureness the object was a meteorite. Its shape, density, color and
magnetism suggested meteorite, according to Rutgers.
Household stainless steel
generally is nonmagnetic, Elliott said. But stainless steel does come in
magnetic forms, Elliott said.
"There was a sureness in
the evidence that was available - the physical evidence," Delaney
said. "But we wanted to test it more thoroughly."
Delaney said he was unaware
of any continued analysis now that the item is determined not to be a
"I was pretty
comfortable from right when I first saw it (that it was a meteorite),"
said Elliott, who was not involved in the recent testing. " I wonder
how many of the past ones (believed to be meteorites) were fully
On Jan. 27, the Rutgers
University Geology Museum displayed the object as a meteorite at its open
"Oh, well, you win some,
you lose some," said Delaney, speaking of the display. "Now, we
are in the position of saying, "Oops.' "
The public, now, has a
glimpse of how scientific analysis works, Delaney said.
evidence routinely causes scientists to change earlier hypotheses that were
based on the best information available at that time," Delaney said.
After the object crashed through
the roof, various people reported objects falling from the sky. Delaney
viewed up to 50 objects, with all turning out to be a
"meteorwrong" - not a meteorite.
Of the 50, only one falling
in the "same general area" on possibly the same day might be related
debris, Delaney said. No more information was immediately available on the
Aircraft debris would have
fallen at the same time, while orbiting debris could have fallen over
hours, Delaney said.
Had it been a meteorite,
within the context of it crashing through a house, "it was probably
worth several thousand dollars," Delaney said.
And, now that it is likely
regrettably," Delaney said.