TechMeteor showers: When cosmic rocks come crashing down on houses and more

Meteor showers: When cosmic rocks come crashing down on houses and more

A metallic object, which is probably a meteorite.
A metallic object, which is probably a meteorite.
Images source: © Hopewell Township Police Department
6:10 AM EST, January 14, 2024

Various estimates suggest that between 100 and 1,000 tons of meteorites shower our planet daily. A large majority of them are fragments that quickly incinerate in the atmosphere, leaving only a fleeting flash in the night sky or the familiar image of a "shooting star".

The fragments most likely to reach Earth's surface are those that have substantial mass before entering the atmosphere and are moving at relatively lower speeds compared to our planet.

Those composed of denser material, such as metal, also stand an increased chance of landing. Given that water covers approximately 71% of our planet, the likelihood of a cosmic rock striking a building or any other structure is minimal, and even less so for hitting a car or a person. However, such impacts do occur, albeit not frequently.

Meteorite bombardment

The most recent report of a meteorite hitting a residential building comes from this week when a metallic fragment of a dark rock fell through a house roof in downtown New Jersey. The residents initially assumed that someone had hurled a rock at their house, but upon examination, they found the object to be hot and capable of inflicting damage indicative of high speed - though significantly reduced when it pierced the house roof.

According to police, the cosmic stone weighs approximately 4.4 pounds and measures around 4 by 6 inches. Experts have already tested it for radioactivity. The American family plans to present their find to astrophysicists to confirm its nature, which isn't unusual as meteorites can fetch considerable prices among collectors.

This is not the only such incident this year - not even in recent days! On the eve of the holidays, a similarly sized stone, akin to a tennis ball, struck a house roof in Elmshorn, northern Germany, as reported by ZDFheute on Twitter.

In this instance, the stone also penetrated the building's roof, and two other pieces were discovered nearby. The similar color of both rocks led amateur astronomers to speculate that they originated from a single larger meteoroid disintegration.

Meteorites also land in Poland. In April 2011, a cosmic stone pierced the roof of an outbuilding refurbished into bathrooms for agritourism guests near Giżycko in Masurian Straw. Meanwhile, in 2021, a meteorite pierced a Canadian house roof in the city of Golden and landed on a sleeping woman's pillow, leaving her unscathed.

Meteorites, nonetheless, can cause harm to people, both directly and indirectly. For instance, a meteorite exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013, causing a shockwave that led to injuries to as many as 1.5 thousand people.

People have also been hit

The earliest reported case of a person struck by a meteorite dates back to 1677 in Italy, when a falling rock allegedly killed an unidentified monk.

A more substantiated event tells the story of a Ugandan teenager who was hit by around a 3-gram fragment of a meteorite that had disintegrated over the city of Mbale in 1992. Luckily, the fragment's fall was slowed by a tree, preventing severe injuries to the boy.

These incidents occurred outdoors, leading to the misconception that being inside a building nullifies the chance of a space rock impact, but there have been incidents of such indoor occurrences.

In 1954, a grapefruit-sized fragment of a meteorite penetrated a house roof in Oak Grove, Alabama, and after bouncing off a large wooden radio receiver, it ricocheted directly into Ann Hodges who was resting on a couch. The 34-year-old woman survived the impact, but it left her with a sizeable bruise.

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