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Meteor the size of oven lights up the night sky, alarms Utahns

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« on: November 19, 2009, 02:59:18 pm »

Meteor the size of oven lights up the night sky, alarms Utahns

SALT LAKE CITY -- A fast moving meteor lit up the night skies over most of Utah just after midnight Wednesday. Moments later, the phones lit up at KSL as people across the state called to tell us what they saw and ask what it was.

Utahns are still talking Wednesday about what scientists are calling a "remarkable midnight fireball." The source of all the excitement was basically a rock, falling from space. When a meteor enters the atmosphere, it gives off a lot of heat and light.

Folks at the Clark Planetarium say this rock was big--between the size of a microwave and washer-dryer unit.

At exactly 12:07, people from all over the western United States watched as the bolide meteor crashed into Earth's atmosphere. In some areas, the flash of light was so bright it caused light sensor street lamps to shut off.

Clark Planetarium Director Seth Jarvis said the stony meteorite was probably around the size of an oven, traveling 80,000 miles an hour when it hit our atmosphere and went splat like a bug on a windshield. He said it happened 100 miles up in the air, so despite the brightness, Utah was never in any danger.

"These collisions can do damage, but they are extremely rare, and literally once in a century do you observe something that's actually doing damage," he said.

Witness Andy Bailey said, "Oh, it lit up the whole sky, like almost brighter than the day. It was bright."

Don White was in Wyoming and told KSL Newsradio for a moment he suspected a nuclear strike. "With something that brilliant and that fast, it was like, whoa, did we just get hit or something? It would have been some bigger noise I guess if a nuclear device had gone off," he said.

"I've seen falling stars before, but nothing like that before," said witness James Albin.

We have reports that the light show was picked up as far away as Tucson, Santa Fe, Butte and Frisco Peak near Milford in southwest Utah.

The University of Utah has an observatory at 9,500 feet on Frisco Peak which captured images of the fireball itself.

Everyone who saw it has a once-in-a-lifetime story.

Resident Jon Olschewski said, "I noticed to the left something streaking through the sky. It was this meteor that was exploding. It was breaking off into at least five big chunks."

Many surveillance systems captured the spectacular blast of light.

"When you got this mass coming through the atmosphere, and these things are going fast, it's like if you could travel that fast on I-15, you could get from Salt Lake to St. George in a matter of 5 seconds. So these things are really going, hits the atmosphere and it makes so much pressure on its leading edge that it just shatters itself," Jarvis explained.

Roy Merrell also saw the light. He said, "There was this flash in the room, the room basically just lit up."

Others recorded a sequence of shadows as fantastic as any Hollywood studio could create.

Patrick Wiggins,NASA Solar System Ambassador to Utah, said, "To realize it was up so high, people are thinking it's right close, but the thing was up so high it was seen between L.A., Las Vegas and, of course, all over Utah. I mean, this thing was way up there."

Scientists believe it was not part of the famous Leonid debris stream, instead a sporadic asteroid, a midnight fireball, which exploded in the atmosphere with an energy equivalent of up to one kiloton of TNT.

"It was almost, I could say, like celestial," Olschewski said. "You know what I mean. One of those kind of moments like 'oh my gosh,' like 'I'm not ready' kind of thing."

In Tooele County, residents reported that they felt that moment when the meteor shattered. Wiggins said it took about 5 minutes for the sonic boom, but said he's not surprised people felt it.

"Most meteors, you don't hear them, but this one was close enough and big enough that yeah, you definitely heard the thing. It was exciting," he said.

Wiggins said, from his calculations, the pieces of the meteor likely fell over Dugway. He said it's possible meteorites could also be found elsewhere. He said it can't hurt to look around your yard; if you happen to find one it could be worth thousands of dollars.

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« Reply #1 on: January 12, 2014, 11:57:09 am »

From the Los Angeles Times....

UCLA meteorite collection finally reaches the public

UCLA's Meteorite Gallery, which houses the largest collection
in California and fifth-largest in the country, is officially open.
The modest museum space packs a wealth of information.

By DEBORAH NETBURN | 11:19PM PST - Friday, January 10, 2014

A 357-pound chunk of the Canyon Diablo meteorite, which carved out the mile-wide Meteor Crater in Arizona, is the centerpiece of UCLA's Meteorite Gallery, which comprises nearly 3,000 specimens from 1,500 individual meteorites. The museum opened to the public Friday. Admission is free. — Photo: Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times/January 10th, 2014.
A 357-pound chunk of the Canyon Diablo meteorite, which carved out the mile-wide Meteor Crater in Arizona, is the centerpiece of UCLA's Meteorite
Gallery, which comprises nearly 3,000 specimens from 1,500 individual meteorites. The museum opened to the public Friday. Admission is free.
 — Photo: Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times/January 10th, 2014.

THE track lighting has been installed, the pamphlets have been printed, and the 357-pound metal space rock that crashed to Earth 50,000 years ago has been bolted to its small display table.

UCLA's Meteorite Gallery is officially open to the public.

To the casual observer, this small room on the third floor of the Geology Building might resemble the trophy room of a fastidious rock collector. But to curator John Wasson, a 79-year-old cosmochemist at the Westwood campus, it is much, much more.

"Finally, it looks like a proper museum," he said Thursday as he surveyed the modest display space. "I'm very pleased."

Over the last 80 years, Wasson and other UCLA scientists have amassed the largest collection of meteorites in California, and the fifth-largest in the United States. It comprises nearly 3,000 specimens from 1,500 individual meteorites. About 100 of the samples, ranging in size from a few millimeters to more than a foot across, are now on display.

Meteorites are pieces of rock that fell to Earth from outer space, usually after a journey of millions of miles. Many meteorites are fragments of asteroids that survived a collision with Earth's atmosphere. Others once belonged to larger bodies in our solar system.

Inside the wood-and-glass cases that line the walls of the museum, associate curator Alan Rubin pointed out a small piece of Mars that was blasted off the planet after a powerful impact millions of years ago. Then he showed off a bit of the moon that melted when it got hit by an asteroid before it came plunging to Earth.

"To me, meteorites are tactile astronomy," said Rubin, who works with Wasson at UCLA's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. "Most astronomers can only look at the things they study from a vast distance, but we get to hold our beloved astronomy in our hand."

Some of the prettiest rocks in the collection are the pallasites — thin slices cut from the boundary between the metal core and the olivine mantle of a meteorite. Displayed with a light shining under them, they look like bubbles of pale green glass embedded in a sheet of silver.

And then there are the pieces of chondrite meteorites that have remained mostly unchanged since the dawn of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago. Inside these rocks, scientists can find chemical clues to how the planets originally formed.

"The heat of the Earth messes our rocks up," Wasson said. "Meteorites come from asteroids that have cooled completely. Most of the rocks on Earth are a couple of hundred million years old, but the rocks from space are often billions of years old."

Visitors to the museum are invited to touch just one of the space rocks on display — the 357-pound piece of extraterrestrial steel in the center of the room. It is a chunk of the massive projectile known as the Canyon Diablo meteorite that carved the mile-wide Meteor Crater in Arizona 50,000 years ago. The mostly iron meteorite was donated to UCLA in 1934 by William Clark, and it is by far the largest specimen in the museum's collection.

The display space even includes a section devoted to "meteorwrongs." These are funky-looking substances such as iron slag, petrified wood and volcanic rock that are often mistaken for meteorites.

"Everyday I get emails — hopeful emails — from people who think the rock they have is a meteorite," Rubin said. "It is almost always not."

Wasson has been teaching at UCLA since 1964, and has fantasized about making the university's meteorite collection available to the public for 30 years. In 2011, he finally persuaded his department head to bump eight grad students out of their study room so he could transform it into a meteorite museum.

Without a formal budget, the project moved forward slowly. Wasson first opened the gallery door in November 2012, long before he considered the museum complete. Even in the final days before the museum's invitation-only grand opening on Friday, he and Rubin were still tinkering with the display cases and hanging new posters with such titles as "Effects of Thermal Metamorphism on Ordinary Chondrites."

Despite its small size, the gallery is jammed with information. Dotted around the museum are QR codes that can be scanned with a smartphone to reveal the chemical composition of meteorites on display, along with when and where they were found and, in some instances, how they were formed.

Wasson thinks it would take most visitors three or four visits to fully absorb the meteorite story he and Rubin are trying to convey. (Luckily, admission is free.)

On Thursday afternoon, there were two people peering at the museum's collection. One of them, Courtney Van Gorden, stumbled across it as she passed through the building after a physical oceanography class.

"It's so cool to imagine that when you are hiking, the rocks you see might not be terrestrial," the fourth-year biology major said.

Some might wonder whether Wasson is perhaps being a little ambitious by describing the former graduate student bullpen as a museum, but Dewey Blanton of the American Alliance of Museums in Washington said it was appropriate.

"The core mission of a museum is rooted in education," said Blanton, the group's director of strategic communications. "They obviously have that."

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