At 11:30 pm Pacific Time on October 4 a meteorite exploded over the British Columbia/Alberta border. For those awake and outdoors at the time this was a chance to see perhaps the brightest natural fireworks display they will ever witness. Ruth Hamilton, on the other hand, was fast asleep, so one of the pieces of space rock came to her instead.
“I just jumped up and turned on the light, I couldn’t figure out what the heck had happened,” Hamilton told the Agassiz-Harrison Observer.
Harrison had been showered with debris from a hole punched in her ceiling, and there was a hot rock on the pillow next to her. Harrison called 911, suspecting the rock was a consequence of blasting at a nearby construction site at Kicking Horse Canyon. A responding police officer was naturally keen to investigate such irresponsible behavior, but Hamilton said, “We called the Canyon project to see if they were doing any blasting and they weren’t, but they did say they had seen a bright light in the sky that had exploded and caused some booms.”
Having at first thought the sound that woke her could have been from a weapon or an intruder Hamilton added: “It’s almost a relief when we realized it could only have fallen out of the sky.”
Hamilton is sending the meteorite to Western University, Ontario, while her insurance company tries to work out if her policy covers a circumstance they have never encountered before.
The softball-sized meteorite will be returned to Hamilton once its type has been identified, although if it turns out to be a particularly rare or scientifically valuable sort scientists may wish to acquire it. Even an H chondrite, the most common meteorite class, might attract a high price from collectors, but so far Hamilton seems more interested in a memento than money.
Western University's Professor Peter Brown confirmed "It's certainly a meteorite," and is asking anyone who filmed the fireball, including with dashcams, to send his team a copy. Such video, if provided from multiple locations, can identify the path on which the asteroid entered the atmosphere, allowing calculation of its orbit. For rare meteorites, or those with particularly interesting histories, the combination of knowing the orbit and having samples of the actual rock can be exceptionally scientifically precious. Locals are also encouraged to look for other debris from the explosion, after scientists found a second rock.
There is no confirmed record of a human being killed by a meteorite, although controversial claims have been made for many deaths in ancient times. However, Hamilton is not the first person have a near miss. Just last year a house in Indonesia was hit by a 2-kilogram (4.4 pounds) meteorite. In 1954 a woman in Alabama was actually struck by a meteorite. Fortunately for her, it had been slowed by her roof and bouncing off a radio, taking out so much energy all she suffered was a (very large) bruise. Other human-meteorite encounters remain disputed.
Hamilton told the Observer: ”The only other thing I can think of saying is life is precious and it could be gone at any moment even when you think you are safe and secure in your bed. I hope I never ever take it for granted again.” The dinosaurs would probably agree.