Chicago Meteor Shower a Windfall for Area Scientists

May 13, 2003

Around midnight on March 26, hundreds of meteorites rained on the Chicago suburbs of Park Forest and Olympia Fields, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) southwest of downtown.

The larger meteorites punched holes in roofs and dented cars. One meteorite embedded itself in the Park Forest fire station.

"We were asleep when it happened," says Phillip Jones, a retired electrical designer who lives in Olympia Fields. "My youngest granddaughter came into our room saying she had heard a noise but we told her she was dreaming and to go back to sleep."

The next morning, Jones found a foot-wide (30-centimeter) hole in the ceiling—then a second hole through the kitchen floor into the basement.

Jones' daughter reported that there seemed to be a furry animal in a pile of laundry in the basement—it was, in fact, a six-pound, six-inch-wide (2.7-kilogram, 15-centimeter) remnant from the origin of the solar system, about 4.5 billion years ago, fuzzy with roof insulation.

The morning after the shower, Meenakshi Wadhwa, a planetary scientist and associate curator at the Field Museum of Chicago with an international reputation for the study of meteorites, particularly those from Mars, was driving to work when she heard a radio report that people were bringing meteorites to the Park Forest police station to be held as "evidence." She took a detour.

Meteorites, Big Business

Wadhwa is used to searching farther afield. She has trekked to Antarctica for meteorites.

She has also set her sights on Mars. Wadhwa is co-investigator of SCIM (Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars), one of the four missions competing for a NASA expedition to the Red Planet in 2007. SCIM is the only mission that plans to return to Earth with samples.

At the Forest Park police station, residents had brought in 15 to 20 meteorites. "It was pretty exciting," Wadhwa says. "This is the freshest material I have ever seen—it had landed just a few hours earlier."

"This is the first time that a meteorite shower has hit such a populated area," says Wadhwa. "It is amazing that nobody got hurt."

Wadhwa wasn't the only interested party. A throng of meteorite collectors and dealers was haggling with residents.

Continued on Next Page >>




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