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Meteors and Meteorites

Risk Assessment

Even though many thousands of meteorites fall to Earth each year it is rare to hear of one hitting a human being. The chances of a human fatality resulting from the fall of a meteorite have been calculated as one death, somewhere in the world, every 52 years. Thankfully no human deaths from falling meteorites have been reported this century. A woman in Sylacauga, Alabama, was injured, however, by a 8.6-lb (3.9-kg) meteorite that crashed through the roof of her house in 1954. Another close call occurred in August of 1991 when a small meteorite plunged to the ground just a few meters away from two boys in Noblesville, Indiana.

In contrast to the situation with human beings, meteorite damage to buildings is much more common—the larger an object is the more likely it will be hit by a meteorite. A farm building, for example, was struck by a meteorite fragment in St. Robert, Quebec in June of 1994. Likewise, in August 1992 a small village in Uganda was showered by at least 50 meteorite fragments. Two of the meteorites smashed through the roof of the local railway station, one meteorite pierced the roof of a cotton factory, and another fragment hit an oil storage facility. One of the more spectacular incidents of meteorite-sustained damage in recent times is that of the Peekskill meteorite which fell in October of 1992 and hit a parked car.

Resources

Books

Bevan, Alex, and John De Laeter. Meteorites: A Journey Through Space and Time. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002.

Norton, O. Richard. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Meteorites. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Zandra, Brigitta, and Monica Rotaru (Roger Hewins, translator). Meteorites: Their Impact on Science and History Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Periodicals

Beatty, J. Kelly. "The Surprising Lunar Leonids." Sky and Telescpoe (June, 2000): vol. 99, p.36.

Other

Space.com "Meteors and Meteor Showers: How They Work" [cited March 1, 2003]. <http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/solarsystem/meteors-ez.html>.


Martin Beech

KEY TERMS

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Ablation

—The process by which a meteoroid is heated and stripped of its surface layers.

Meteoroid

—A solid object in interplanetary space which is much larger than an atom or molecule, but smaller than a few meters in diameter. Once larger than several meters in diameter solid interplanetary objects are usually classified as either minor planets (asteroids) or comets.

Radiant

—The small region of the sky from which shower meteors appear to originate.

Silicates

—Compounds made primarily of silicon and oxygen. Two examples are the minerals pyroxene and olivine.

Sublimate

—The process by which ice vaporizes without passing through a liquid stage.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Mathematics to Methanal trimerMeteors and Meteorites - Visual Meteors, Sporadic Meteors, Meteor Showers, Meteorites, Classification, Risk Assessment