Spectators Nearly Hit By Meteor Shower

November 20, 2001

Associated Press

HIGHLAND, Ind. -- Laura Yuran and her son Jonathon got a closer look at the Leonid meteor shower than they bargained for. Yuran and her 11-year-old son believe they were nearly hit by chunks of the space rocks early Sunday morning.

The two were watching the meteor shower outside their northwestern Indiana home about 4 a.m. when hail-like objects began pelting them, The Times of Munster reported today.

As Laura walked toward the house to get her husband, Tom, a chunk of rock slammed to the ground near where she had been standing just moments before.

"It went, 'Boom!' and I screamed," Laura said. "Part of it hit the driveway and the second part was embedded in the ground. I was afraid to touch it."

Tom Yuran recovered two rocks, one of which he had to pull out of the ground, the newspaper said. The rocks, which are rust-colored on one side and silvery on the other, weigh a total of about two ounces.

Jim Seevers, an astronomer from Chicago's Adler Planetarium, said the rocks are likely meteorites from the Leonids. The rust color is "the fusion crust," he said, which results when the rock is seared by the earth's atmosphere.

"The rock probably chipped off and the shiny silver they see is the inside," Seevers told The Times. "It's most likely iron and nickel."

The Yurans contacted Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, whose curator, Dr. Menache Wadhwa, asked them to bring one of the rocks for geologists to examine.

"She said we're the only ones anywhere who have reported falling meteorites from the Leonid meteor shower," Tom said.

After the scientists are done examining the possible meteorites, Laura said she hopes to put them in a display case and give it to her son for his rock collection.

Scientist decides Indiana objects from inside Earth

November 22, 2001

By William Mullen - Chicago Tribune

The theory that meteorites had fallen into an Indiana back yard during the Leonid meteor shower came crashing down Wednesday when a Field Museum expert examined the suspicious objects.

"This is terrestrial rock. It is not a meteorite," Meenakshi Wadhwa said after a brief but careful initial examination of the small rocks brought by Thomas Yuran in two plastic bags.

Yuran picked them up from his Highland back yard about 4:30 a.m. Sunday, shortly after his wife, Laura, said she heard them crash with a thud as she and their son, Jonathon, 11, stood watching meteors streaking across the night sky.

As word of the occurrence spread, the Yurans became minor media celebrities, interviewed by local and national newspapers and television news shows. On Wednesday, Yuran said, they were interviewed by remote hookup at their home by Matt Lauer on the NBC network's "Today" show.

Several newspaper and television news crews were with Yuran later in the morning when he met at the Field with Wadhwa, a renowned scientist who has collected meteorites in Antarctica.

"I'm very glad you brought these here," she told Yuran, an electrician. "It's important for science that people who believe they have found meteorites to bring them to institutions like ours for verification. It's one of the ways we find new materials."

Before Wadhwa met with Yuran, she arranged for him to see the Field's impressive, permanent meteorite exhibit on the second floor of the museum. She also laid out several meteorites in her office from the Field's extensive collection for him to compare with the rocks he brought in.

None bore any resemblance to the small, shiny, flaky stones he recovered from his yard during the meteor shower.

"It doesn't look like any meteorite that we know of," Wadhwa said as she looked at the largest of Yuran's rocks, measuring about 2 inches by 1 1/2 inches.

"These are not very uncommon to find in many places," she said. "It's a micaceous rock, metamorphic, formed in extreme pressure and heat deep in the earth. How it happened to fall into your yard, I can't tell you."

Yuran, who came to the museum alone because his wife had to work and his son was in school, accepted Wadhwa's verdict but still wondered if the rock didn't somehow come from space.

"I still strongly believe that it is too coincidental that these rocks are not strongly related to the meteor storm," Yuran said. "They did come from outer space; I'm confident of that."

Wadwha agreed to take a small sample from one of Yuran's rocks and run a more thorough analysis.

She assured him, however, that nothing of the size of those rocks has ever been known to come from the debris of the Tempel-Tuttle comet, which is the source of the Leonid meteors.

That debris rarely is larger than a grain of rice or sand, she said. When they strike the Earth's atmosphere 70 to 80 miles up, they burn up with extreme, bright intensity, the larger ones visible from the ground as shooting stars.

Meteorites are meteors so big that they do not burn up entirely in the atmosphere and fall to Earth. There is no known incident of comet debris surviving the fiery plunge through the atmosphere and landing on the ground, she said.

"You wouldn't expect to have something the size of [Yuran's] rocks coming from a cometary shower," she said. "From my experience with meteorites, I'm certain these did not come from space, but are simply mica."