Students touch piece of outer space
By JOHN RICHMEIER, Leavenworth Times Staff Writer
Jun 17, 2004
How can a person tell an ordinary rock from a meteorite. It's easy; grab a magnate. That was Ivan Biehn's advice to Anthony Elementary students last week. He said magnets should stick to meteorites because they all contain iron; Earth rocks don't. Holding one of several meteorite samples he had brought to the school and a magnet from an old television set, Biehn demonstrated the test. Biehn, Leavenworth, may not be that common of a face at Anthony. But he has helped David Brewer Elementary School obtain various "museum" items including a stuffed mountain lion. "This summer we're collecting meteorites," he said. Biehn said he has spent 10 years studying astronomy, and one classification of astronomy is devoted to meteorites. He told Anthony students that there basically are three types of meteorites -- iron, iron-stony and plain stony (which still contain some quantity of iron). Biehn told students that shooting stars are actually incoming meteors. He said most are small and burn up in the atmosphere. He said they travel about 64,000 miles per hour -- or 18 miles per second -- but some may exceed 151,000 miles per hour. He said really large stony and iron-stony types of meteorites never reach the Earth because they begin to heat up as they enter the atmosphere and eventually explode. The explosion can scatter much smaller pieces over an area of about 200 square miles, he said. He said meteors may fall toward the Earth more often than some people may think. "They come in every day and every night," he said. However, he said the chances of finding a meteorite still are not very high. "But don't be afraid to try because somebody finds them or we wouldn't have them," he said. He said Kansas, Nebraska and Texas are among the best states for finding meteorites. He said some people may find meteorites but think they are nothing more than ordinary rocks. Biehn's presentation also included a little meteorite humor. "What is a rock, when it's not a meteorite?" he asked. "If it's not a meteorite," he answered, "it's a meteor-wrong." Biehn brought an example of a "meteor-wrong," performing the magnet test on it. But all rocks are still of interest, he said. The "meteor-wrong" was an example of coprolite, which he said is dinosaur poop. The samples of meteorites Biehn brought to Anthony had been found at various points on the globe. One example, which had been found in Argentina, was estimated through carbon dating to have impacted the Earth 5,800 to 6,000 years ago.