Have you ever considered the odds of a fireball crashing through your roof and onto your pillow while you were sleeping?
Peter Brown has.
“The chances of a meteorite big enough to penetrate a roof and hit a bed are about one and 100 billion per year,” said Brown in the wake of exactly that situation happening to a sleeping Ruth Hamilton in Golden on Oct. 3.
Brown is Canada Research Chair at Ontario’s Western University and has been a researcher in this field for 30 years. He said an opportunity like the one in Golden only presents itself so often.
“When we first heard this story we were pretty surprised, but also pretty convinced that it was a meteorite and we certainly had a pretty good idea of the fireball that was related to it,” he said.
Despite the long odds, it’s not the first time this has happened in 2021, with Brown citing a similar incident in Indonesia this past January where a meteor also came through a roof and hit a bed.
Meteorites offer an important look into the unknown of space, as they’re the only material available on earth that comes from, well, not earth. Researchers are hoping that Golden area residents can help them track the route taken by this fireball. Anyone with dashcam footage or video of the fireball are encouraged to reach out.
“It helps us reconstruct the past in the atmosphere and the orbit the object took and that will then help us put this meteorite in context,”said Brown. “Ultimately, we’re trying to understand how the solar system and planets formed.”
Brown says that if researchers are able to reconstruct an orbit pre-impact from the object, it can offer a clue as to where in the asteroid belt the rock came from. Detailed analysis on the ground can let them know the spatial context of the object, but not about it’s orbit.
Brown says that while there’s tens of thousands of meteorites, there are only orbits on a few dozen.
Brown says it’s also not a shock that the rock did not burn the bed when it landed, as meteors stop being luminous at about 18 to 20 kilometres of altitude, giving them plenty of time to cool off in the chilly upper atmosphere.
Brown says Golden residents, particularly those in the north end of town, should keep their eyes peeled for similar meteorites, as there’s a good chance further debris may be scattered.
Alan Hildebrand, a planetary scientist in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Calgary and his collaborators had done a preliminary fireball trajectory solution, and had predicted the location of its fall. They were on the ground in Golden this weekend searching for more, said Hamilton.
If anyone has found a rock in the indicated strewn field area that matches a meteorite description, they are encouraged to send images (against a dark background with a scale) to firstname.lastname@example.org for identification.
If anyone has video footage or images they would like to share, they are encouraged to reach out to the Western Meteor Physics Group at email@example.com
While the search continues around Golden, Hamilton says she’s had enough of the excitement.
“I’m pretty much behind the scenes at this point. I live a quiet life and it’s been overwhelming,” she said “Hopefully someone else comes along and takes the focus away from me.”
Hamilton has since loaned the rock to Western, saying that they personally came to pick it up and that they will be returning it on Nov. 30, after which she’s not quite sure yet what she will do.
“It’s got its own escort at this point,” remarked Hamilton. “It just speaks to its importance and its scientific value.”