[meteorite-list] Meteorite May Have Fallen In Maryland

Ron Baalke baalke at zagami.jpl.nasa.gov
Thu Feb 28 11:41:11 EST 2002


'Falling star' may have fallen in Md.

Rock: If scientists confirm Dale Pearce's find, the plum-sized meteorite would be
the fifth found in the state. 

By Frank D. Roylance
Baltimore Sun
February 28, 2002

Dale Pearce took a rock to work Tuesday and told his co-workers it fell out of the
sky Saturday night, and he found it in the woods behind his Pasadena home.

Sure, Dale.

They didn't believe him at first. But Pearce may get the last laugh.

The plum-sized rock that he says blazed out of the sky and smacked into the ground
behind the Pasadena Crossroads Shopping Center has been identified by a NASA
scientist as a genuine stony meteorite.

Pearce and his rock were due at the Smithsonian Institution this morning, where
experts will cut a slice from it to confirm and classify the discovery.

If that proves it's the real thing, the meteorite would become only the fifth known to
have been found in Maryland, and the first in 83 years.

Following astronomical custom, it would be named after the U.S. post office nearest
the fall. That would appear to make it the "Glen Burnie Meteorite," although Pearce
favors Pasadena.

A 40-year-old painter with the Baltimore City housing department, Pearce hopes to
sell the space rock and make a down payment on a house for himself, his wife,
Michelle, and their two sons, Brad, 10, and Collin, 6.

Turning the dark reddish-brown rock over in his hand yesterday, he said he didn't
blame people for doubting his story. "It's kind of hard to believe I'd seen a shooting
star and actually found it, and here's the rock. I'd be a skeptic, too."

But Michael J. Mumma, chief scientist for planetary research at NASA's Goddard
Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, has seen the rock, and the spot where it fell. And
he's a believer.

Mumma got involved Sunday after Pearce showed his find to a friend, Terry Kimmel,
a dentist who lives in Arnold. Kimmel was impressed enough to phone his friend -
Mumma - who studies comets and other "primitive" relics of the early solar system.

Mumma invited them to his house in Glen Oban, near Annapolis. "As soon as I saw
the stone it was immediately obvious to me it was a meteorite," Mumma said.

The saddle-shaped rock shows no sign of weathering, fracturing or tampering. Most
tellingly, it has a smooth, black sheen on one side that scientists call a fusion crust -
a thin layer melted briefly by friction as a meteor blazes through the atmosphere.

It has evidence of chondrules - tiny spherical globs of minerals that condensed 4 1/2
billion years ago in the disk of gas and dust that formed the sun and planets.

"This was another indication this was a chondritic meteorite," a stony type and the
most common found in observed meteor falls, Mumma said. Iron-metal meteorites,
and carbonaceous types are rarer, more valuable to collectors and important to

If the rock's interior reveals chondrules, that should clinch the identification, Mumma

Pearce led Mumma to the impact site Monday morning. The grapefruit-sized crater
also appeared genuine, Mumma said. "There was a rather small hole in ground,
which was well-fitted to the size of the meteorite," he said. It was surrounded by a
foot-wide fan of loose dirt.

Scientists say meteors this size enter the atmosphere at 18 miles per second. But
they're slowed by the atmosphere and usually strike the surface at about 200 mph.

"I asked him to put the stone in the hole exactly where he found it so I could
photograph it. He put it in with the fusion side down, which is exactly what it should

Pearce said he had just gotten into his van about 9:10 p.m. Saturday, preparing to
drive from his Kellington Drive home to pick up a tool at his brother-in-law's house.
"I had the key in the ignition, and I looked up and saw a streak of light," he said.

In a "split second," it flashed from north to south, trailing a column of blue, green and
red light. It passed behind the tower on the Kaiser Permanente building in the 8000
block of Ritchie Highway, and vanished into the woods behind.

"A falling star - that's the first thing that came to my mind, although it was the first
time I had ever witnessed one," Pearce said.

He might not be the only one who spotted it. A Lutherville resident telephoned The
Sun on Monday morning and said he was startled by a bright shooting star toward
the southeast about 9:15 p.m. Saturday. He said it had a tail of blue, yellow and red

Pearce noted where the meteor vanished. The next afternoon, he headed into the
woods with his sons. He told them it was a treasure hunt. "I thought we were going
to find a star," said Collin.

Pearce has walked these woods often with his boys, and knows them well. It's a
large patch of young poplars, gum, beech and pine trees, thick with sticker bushes
and vines. It took Pearce and his sons 20 minutes to find the stone, resting in its
little crater beside a deer trail.

"He was really excited," his wife said. "How many times in your life do you find
something like this? I'm really happy for him."

Tim McCoy, curator of meteorites at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History
in Washington, gets his first look at the stone today. "We get probably 200
specimens a year that people think are meteorites. If we're lucky, one or two actually
turn out to be meteorites." But fakery is rare, he said.

Based on Mumma's photos, McCoy gives Pearce's rock better than the normal odds
of being a meteorite. "This one I'd say was better than 25 percent, but ... it's so hard
to tell anything from pictures."

Earth plows into an estimated 16,000 tons of meteoritic material every year.
"Shooting stars" can be seen on any clear night, but most are smaller than a grain of
sand and vaporize before they reach the surface. Those that do reach Earth usually
fall in the oceans.

One estimate is that one freshly fallen meteorite is recovered per year for every
386,000 square miles of land.

"I would guess that 15 or 20 times a year around the world somebody observes a fall
and goes and picks up the meteorites," McCoy said.

Smithsonian records show only four previous meteorite finds in Maryland. The
earliest was a 16 1/2 -pound rock that was seen to fall at noon Feb. 10, 1825, near
Nanjemoy, in Charles County.

A 1-pound iron meteorite was found near Emmittsburg, in Frederick County, in
1854. Another, weighing almost 3 pounds, was plowed up in Garrett County, near
Lonaconing, in 1888.

The last known meteorite fall in Maryland was a daylight impact a mile from St.
Jerome's Creek, in St. Mary's County, on June 20, 1919.

Pearce says if his find is authenticated, he will sell it. Collectors are paying $1 to
$300 per gram, depending on a meteorite's rarity, McCoy said. Mumma estimated
this one weighs 150 to 200 grams - a third- to almost a half-pound.

If it's an ordinary chondrite as Mumma suspects, it would be worth only a few
hundred dollars. If so, he's counseled Pearce to keep it for his kids.

McCoy said the Smithsonian will keep the slice cut today for study, and would make
a bid for the rest if the stone is genuine. "We get a lot of visitors from Maryland, and
it's the kind of thing we like to have available and put on display."

"People think meteorites fall everywhere else, but not near them," he said. "The
most exciting thing is that this can happen in their back yard."

[meteorite-list] Meteorite May Have Fallen In Maryland

Stephen E. Smith vickie-steve-smith at erols.com
Thu Feb 28 16:10:40 EST 2002

Hi everyone,
    I just spoke to Mrs. Pearce about the stone.  They took it to the Smithsonian today and it
turns out to be sandstone.  They are very embarrassed and were sorry their friend from NASA
called the media.
    I am sending both their boys a meteorite so they aren't disappointed about the whole
experience.   Steve

[meteorite-list] Meteoric Expectations Hit Rock Bottom In Maryland

Ron Baalke baalke at zagami.jpl.nasa.gov
Fri Mar 1 11:30:29 EST 2002


Meteoric expectations hit rock bottom in Pasadena

Smithsonian proves stone is of this world

By Frank D. Roylance
Baltimore Sun 
March 1, 2002

Dale Pearce's dreams of cashing in the "Glen Burnie Meteorite" for a down
payment on a house for his family crashed and burned yesterday in

The odd stone that the Pasadena house painter and a NASA scientist thought
was the meteor that shot across the sky Saturday night is just a common

"It's an iron oxide, cemented sandstone," said Tim McCoy, curator of
meteorites at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History in
Washington. He examined the stone yesterday.

"These rocks are very common in the Eastern United States, and they are
commonly confused with meteorites," McCoy said. "We put it under the
microscope, but there was never really any question in our mind once we got
it out of the bag."

Pearce, who found the stone Sunday, will continue to rent.

"I did get to learn a lot," he said. "I guess I'll look at it as a good
experience. I saw a falling star; I'm not sure where it landed, though."

The commercial value of an authentic meteorite can vary widely depending on
size and type, but can be worth thousands of dollars.

But his sons may yet own a real meteorite. A collector called from Virginia
and said he would send them one found in Africa.

Pearce's big adventure in science began about 9 p.m. Saturday when he saw a
colorful meteor streak across the sky behind his home. Callers to The Sun
from Lutherville and Hanover, Pa., said they saw it, too.

On Sunday, Pearce said, he and his two young sons searched woods near their
home and found a plum-sized stone in a hole, surrounded by fresh dirt.
Pearce picked it up and showed it to a friend. The friend called Michael J.
Mumma, an acquaintance who is also chief scientist for planetary research at
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

It looked like a meteorite to Mumma, too. So he arranged to have the stone
examined at the Smithsonian, and escorted Pearce and the rock to Washington.

Mumma, who said his expertise runs more to comets than asteroids,
acknowledged his surprise at the results yesterday. "It fooled us all there
for a while. ... I thought it was a meteorite," he said. "I looked very
carefully at the impact site and for signs that it might not be natural, and
didn't find any. ... I'm puzzled, frankly."

McCoy wasn't. The overall shape of the rock and its weathering could easily
be confused with the real thing, he said. "Among all the ones I've looked at
that turned out not to be meteorites, this was one of the more convincing,"
he said.

But closer examination revealed the stone was 80 to 90 percent quartz, which
is almost never found in meteorites, he said. And, it was rich in iron
oxides - also absent in freshly fallen meteorites.

McCoy said the stone's surface, despite appearances, "had not been melted.
The outside was just a weathered version of the inside."

But Pearce and Mumma did the right thing, McCoy said. "It's better to bring
it in and have it looked at than to wonder forever," he said.

For their trouble, Pearce and his family got to examine meteorites at the
Smithsonian. His son Collin, 6, held a meteorite from Mars - one of 15 known
to science.

Mumma has no regrets. "That's the way science goes," he said. "I was glad to
have had the opportunity to do this, and I would do it again. Had it been
something important, this is how we would have obtained a sample for
scientific use."

[meteorite-list] "Meteorite" May Have Fallen In Maryland

Matson, Robert ROBERT.D.MATSON at saic.com
Thu Feb 28 13:30:35 EST 2002

Hi All,

Once again, a stone turned in by John Q. Public has turned out
to be just that:  an ordinary rock.  I feel sorry for Michael
Mumma, the chief scientist for planetary research at NASA's
Goddard Space Flight Center, who was quoted in the story as
saying, "As soon as I saw the stone it was immediately obvious
to me it was a meteorite."  --Rob