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Illinois meteorite strike in doubt

A palm-sized piece of metallic debris that punched a hole in a Bloomington, Illinois, home may be wood-chipper debris.
Park Forest meteorite shower fragment
A fragment of the meteorite shower that fell on Park Forest, Illinois, last year.
Elliott Brennan / UC
March 9, 2007
Help wanted. Homeowners in Bloomington, Illinois, seeking carpenter and cabinetmaker with experience in repair of meteorite damage.

Or…Anybody know a good lawyer?

The alleged "meteorite" that smashed through a window Monday, March 12, at the home of David and Dee Riddle of 25 Partner Place, Bloomington, may be a chunk of ordinary steel plate spit out of an industrial wood-chipper about 1,000 feet (300 meters) from the Riddle home, according to James Day, a geology professor at Illinois State University who examined the reputed space rock. "We have our suspicions this may not be a legitimate meteorite."

Indeed, even as CNN broadcasts its report on the incident on international television, meteorite experts were already puzzling over the alleged meteorite's odd features. "I've seen some pictures of this alleged meteorite and based on the photograph alone, I am a bit dubious about its origin as a meteorite," says Meenakshi Wadhwa, geology professor and director of the Center for Meteorite Studies at Arizona State University in Tempe.

For example, Wadhwa told Astronomy in an e-mail, there is a "strange looking transition between what looks like a shinier surface and a somewhat rusty looking patch, as well as the very flat right edge of the object." A fresh meteorite, even if it contained iron, would not be rusty.

"Having said that, however, photographs can be misleading and I would not venture to say anything definitive simply based on a single photograph," she adds.

Day said the reputed meteorite needs to undergo laboratory testing to determine that it was, indeed, a fresh meteorite that fell from space.

Wadhwa explains that certain key features could distinguish the object as a meteorite: whether it has a "fusion crust" from its surface being heated from friction with the atmosphere, and whether a magnet attracts it, indicating the presence of iron.

Wadhwa also notes, "If it is a fresh fall, I would also say that I would not expect it to show any rust — any metal present should look pretty fresh."

Laboratory tests could also determine if the object contains nickel, which metallic meteorites typically contain.
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