Much About Meteors

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Last Monday, the people of Scotland who were outside and looked up at the sky between 6 and 7 pm saw a bright flash of light and heard a loud bang. Some car dashboard cameras recorded the flash.  Scientists believe it was a meteor.   I learned a lot about these threats from space and about how they’re different from comets in the Oscar E. Moning Meteorite Gallery.

Fort Worth gets better each time I visit.  It’s well-known for its stockyards, arts district, and exciting, compact downtown.  All 3 contains gems. But I’m always looking for lesser known, decidedly offbeat attractions in any city, and Fort Worth is where I found the little known, 5 Compass Oscar E. Moning Meteorite Gallery on the campus of Texas Christian University.

I wasn’t sure it was opened on that Saturday afternoon in February, but I persisted and it was, but it wasn’t easy to find.  Once inside it, however, I was shocked to learn how little I knew about meteors.  At 2950 West Bowie Street on the edge of TCU’s campus, it’s in the yellow Sid Richardson Building on the 2nd floor.

Oscar E. Moning built one of the finest meteor collections in the world and donated it to this university over a period of 8 years.  The museum now has over 1,000 meteors, but only about 10% of them are on display.  Being rocks from space, some are not all that beautiful but they sure are interesting. Moning must have had sense of humor.  He once said, “If I collected all the hen house doorstops in Texas, I’d have a major meteor collection.”  In other words, they’re plentiful here.

 

However, less than 1% of space rocks that enter Earth’s atmosphere make it to the surface.  Most meteors come from asteroids, space rocks that orbit the Sun in a belt between Mars and Jupiter.  When the planets began to take shape about 4.5 billion years ago, millions of rocks didn’t become parts of planets.  Instead, they continue to drift in space and some make their way to Earth’s atmosphere.  The ones that are sucked down and make landfall are often found in deserts.   Australia is a virtual meteor magnet, and one of the world’s largest meteor craters is there.   Other gargantuan craters are on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and in Arizona.  Not as common as I once thought they were, only 1 or 2 meteors the size of baseballs hit Arizona each year.  For some reason, this information was not much comfort to me.

By all means see the introductory film at the Oscar E. Moning Meteorite Gallery.  It’s both informative and fascinating.  When I got home, I googled movies about meteors and was rather surprised at the large number that have been made.  However, I wish I had never seen Melancholia that starred Kristen Dunst.   In it, a mysterious object, most likely a new planet, is headed straight toward Earth.  I won’t report what happens in the last 20 minutes of this film, but it’s so vivid that it haunts me to this day.  And now I’m not so sure I want to go back to Scotland.

Hank

The meteorite below called a pallasite is composed of iron and olivine and was found in New Mexico.

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