Tests 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,
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
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
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.
"This particular composition is not one we've ever
seen (happening naturally)," Delaney said.
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
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 meteorite.
"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 analyzed."
On Jan. 27, the Rutgers University Geology Museum displayed
the object as a meteorite at its open house.
"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.
"New experimental evidence routinely causes scientists
to change earlier hypotheses that
were based on the best information available at that time," Delaney
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
Of the 50, only one falling in the "same general
possibly the same day might be related
debris, Delaney said. No more information was
immediately available on the other object.
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
And, now that it is likely man-made debris?
"Zero, regrettably," Delaney said.