Witnesses Say Dazzling CO
Meteor May Be In
La Garita Mountains
By Teresa L. Benns
© Alamosa Valley Courier 2001

LA GARITA - Geologists and star trackers are eagerly seeking the exact landing field for a meteor they now believe fell near Storm King Campground in the eastern La Garita Mountains.
The huge fireball was sighted by several Valley residents around 10:45 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17, according to local officials.
Forty times brighter than a full moon, the meteor was seen as far away as New Mexico, Wyoming and Idaho, according to a press release from Denver's Nature and Science Museum.
The sighting sparked an influx of calls and e-mails to the museum.
Dr. Jack Murphy, a Nature and Science Museum geologist and Dr. Peter Brown from Los Alamos National Laboratories in New Mexico estimate the meteor weighed one metric ton on entry and was traveling 11.25 miles per second.
Eyewitness accounts
Saguache Deputy Richard Sutton, patrolling along Highway 17 at County Road H saw a "really intense, bright light like lightning," sometime between 10:30 and 11 p.m.
"It lit up the entire Valley but it lasted five to six seconds," Sutton said. The meteor was directly over his head, causing him to crane his neck to follow it.
"I actually saw debris coming through the atmosphere, and smoke with golden sparks trailing behind the meteor. These gold and yellow sparks went very slowly," Sutton said.
"The meteor passed over the town of Center to the north, slowed down to a crawl and went down low, fading slowly before it went dark."
Sutton says he saw no small explosions, and given the amount of burning, the elevation, and the meteor's lowness in the sky, he feels a chunk of the object could be lodged somewhere in Saguache County.
The deputy believes the meteor landed east of Storm King campground.
Monte Vista resident Mike Valdez was relaxing in his hot tub that night when he saw the meteor.
"It was just plain awesome," Valdez said. "It's so hard to describe because there's nothing to compare it to."
Valdez said the light "was so bright it dwarfed the intensity of the city light in my backyard. It was bright white, and after it finished burning it spread apart into two reddish-orange balls."
About 15 minutes later, Valdez said he heard noises "like low thunder."
Del Norte residents Lance and Deanne Andersen were camping near Summitville that evening when they saw the meteor streak through the sky and disappear over the mountains.
"It lit up the Valley like daylight," Andersen said. "I could see along way. It was pretty impressive."
He watched the meteor until it disappeared somewhere over the La Garita Mountains.
Location of impact not exact
Originally it was believed the meteor went down somewhere in the vicinity of the San Juans in Conejos County.
Later the site was better pinpointed, after studying eyewitness reports, to the Storm King area.
While coursing through the atmosphere, the light generated lends this falling space mass the name meteor. Once on the ground, it is referred to as a meteorite, because it has disintegrated into numerous fragments.
Hoping to locate and examine some of these fragments, Murphy came to the San Luis Valley last week to interview eyewitnesses, among them Andersen and Valdez.
"We're looking for people who were stationary or sitting down and actually saw pieces falling from the sky," Murphy said. "If we have some landmarks, like between a chimney and a telephone pole, we can line it up with compass bearings."
The museum hopes to do a scientific study on the meteor and would like to tell people how to identify meteorites, Murphy emphasized.
Meteorites found will not be confiscated, only examined. The space rocks belong to private property owners if found on private land and to the federal government, if found on BLM or national forest land.
Eyewitnesses may contact Murphy at 303-370-6445. ___
Experts Get Lots of Aid in Finding Meteorite
By Ann Schrader Denver Post Science Writer
From a new round of witnesses to a self-described "meteorite junkie," hundreds of Coloradans are following the hunt for the brilliant fireball that slammed into the state on Aug. 17.
More than 150 people called or sent e-mails to the geology department at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science on Tuesday claiming to have seen the meteor after The Denver Post published a story about the search for the space debris. The meteorite is believed to have landed somewhere in a mountainous 100 square miles between Creede and Saguache.
Researchers say the meteor was 40 times brighter than the moon, made a near-vertical entry and may have weighed 1 ton when it arrived at 10:44 p.m.
Matt Morgan of the Colorado Geological Survey and an admitted meteorite addict said Tuesday that 20 to 50 pounds of material could be left from the impact after the meteorite entered the atmosphere at an estimated 11 miles per second.
"We really need to find one of these," said Morgan, who wrote "The Handbook of Colorado Meteorites." "It's the oldest, most primitive material you can get."
If collected while still fresh from space, a meteorite will contain gases that reveal its origin, minerals that haven't been altered and perhaps even amino acids, the building blocks of life, Morgan said.
Meteorite material is prized by collectors, who may pay "a couple of hundred bucks per pound," Morgan said. If there is something unique about the meteorite - such as its freshness, composition or if it has a story behind it - the cost might soar five times higher.
Meteorites can be made of stone or of iron, and vary in appearance. However, most have a distinctive black fusion crust, which is melted rock material. Sometimes, there are lines on the outside or "thumbprints" that look like those left in clay by potters.
Most of Colorado's meteorites have been recovered from the Eastern Plains, where a rock in the dirt is an anomaly. Researchers admit the rocky terrain where the meteorite may have landed could camouflage it, particularly since volcanic rocks abound there.
Researchers Tuesday continued to interview people who saw the fiery meteor. The scientists say compass readings and measurements of what the eyewitnesses describe as the direction and altitude of the breakup point above the horizon indicate the meteorite came down in the Rio Grande National Forest.
In particular, the museum's meteorite research team wants to talk with anyone who was staying near Carneros Creek or Storm King campground.
One man who apparently was close to the meteorite impact site in the La Garita Mountains between Creede and Saguache will be videotaped by the museum today as he tells his story.
The U.S. Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs did not track the fireball. "We track 8,300 manmade objects in orbit so we can predict where the object will re-enter the atmosphere," a spokesman said, "but we don't monitor natural objects like meteors." ___
All contents Copyright 2001 The Denver Post or other copyright holders. All rights reserved.,1002,53%257E124425,00.html


This Site Served by TheHostPros