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StarDate: Cosmic Hailstones

by Damond Benningfield
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STARDATE 06/12/2014: The Archer family of suburban Auckland, New Zealand, got a surprise visitor 10 years ago today: a meteorite. It punched a hole in their roof, bounced off a leather sofa, and rolled to a stop on the floor. No one was hurt, but the family got a great story to pass down through the generations.

Space rocks hit our planet all the time. Most of them burn up in the atmosphere, but a few hit the ground. And most of those are unseen — they hit the oceans or deserts or other uninhabited regions. But like the one in New Zealand, a few have witnesses.

An example is one that hit Quebec 20 years ago this week.

When it began its entry into the atmosphere, it probably weighed about two tons. Although it arrived in daylight, it created a brilliant fireball that was visible across the northeastern United States and into Canada. It exploded near Montreal at an altitude of about 20 miles, rattling windows more than a hundred miles away.

Several witnesses saw and heard bits of debris falling to the ground like cosmic hailstones. One embedded itself in the ground in the middle of a farm. The farmer saw several cows standing around a small hole and went to investigate. When he looked into the hole, he found a rock the size of a cantaloupe with a dark outer crust — a five-pound meteorite.

Many other fragments of that space rock have been found since, giving scientists new items to study — and their finders new stories to tell — for a long time to come.

Script by Damond Benningfield Copyright ©2014 The University of Texas McDonald Observatory

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