A family in Hopewell, New Jersey, had a rare surprise when a meteorite crashed through their roof. According to the police report, the stone was around 10 centimeters (4 inches) by 15 centimeters (6 inches) and clearly natural, rather than a piece of space junk. The event may be the most exciting thing to happen in the town of 2,000 for years, but the police report raises the possibility the object may be even more interesting than the typical meteorite.
The risk of being hit by a meteorite is tiny – there’s only one reported case and even that unlucky individual survived with major bruising after the object bounced off her radio. One woman did have a lucky escape two years ago when a meteorite landed on her pillow.
According to the Hopewell Township Police Department (HTPD)’s statement, in this case, “The … home was occupied at the time but there were no injuries reported…It penetrated the roof, the ceiling and then impacted the hardwood floor before coming to rest.”
Meteorites are probably not in the training manual for police forces so the report continues: “HTPD has contacted several other agencies for assistance in positively identifying the object and safeguarding the residents and the object.”
“This may be related to the current Meteor shower called the Eta Aquarids,” the statement continues. “The investigation is ongoing.”
Besides being one of the brightest meteor showers of the year, the Eta Aquarids are known for being debris from Halley’s comet. Even though the comet last visited the inner solar system 37 years ago, bits of dust blown off the comet when surrounding ice melted continue to follow its orbit. The Earth runs into some of this material every May and October forming the Eta Aquarids and Orionids meteor showers, named after the parts of the sky they appear to come from.
Most Eta Aquarids are the size of a grain of sand or smaller, noticeable only because of the extreme temperatures they reach when they hit the atmosphere at great speed, causing them to briefly light up. An object the size of this meteorite, which would have been considerably larger before its outer layers burned up on entry, has not previously been associated with the Eta Aquarids. At this stage, it is too early to tell if the reference to the meteor shower was simply guesswork by the police, or if experts have advised them the possibility is real.
The method of the rock’s arrival means its meteorite status is not really in doubt, even if the body it originates from is uncertain. Some people, however, jump to the conclusion any unusual-looking rock, particularly if it is magnetic, is a meteor. There are several tests worth doing before deciding to bother your local museum. If you do think you have found a meteorite, please avoid destroying the magnetic field that may be its most scientifically interesting feature, by applying powerful hand magnets.
Although this is probably Hopewell, New Jersey’s, first encounter with a meteorite, the same may not be true for Hopewell, Ohio. From 2,100 to 1,500 years ago, trade routes created a network of Native American cultures in and around the Ohio River Valley, at one point extending from the Great Lakes to Florida. Archaeologists named this the Hopewell tradition after earthwork mounds found in what is now the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. According to one theory, the tradition went into decline after a catastrophic airburst left meteorites strewn across the valley. Comets have been blamed for the fall of other civilizations, but these claims remain fiercely controversial among archaeologists, and the Hopewell theory remains unproven.