The Sky Isn't Falling -
But Pieces Sure Are
By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer -

A host of mostly coincidental recent events make Chicken Little sound ever-so-slightly more credible. In the past eight days, stuff falling from space rocked a village in India and a bathroom in Louisiana, while lighting up the skies over the San Francisco Bay area, Europe and Australia.
The most spectacular visitor from beyond was a meteorite initially said to set a village afire in India and injure 20 people this past weekend. Later reports by the BBC and elsewhere put the injuries at three.
The fireball streaking through the sky turned night into day, witnesses said. It was reported visible across a nearly 5,800-square-mile (15,000-square-kilometer) region. Two pieces about 11 pounds each (5 kilograms) were said to be recovered.
On Monday, Sept. 29, a bright fireball startled residents around San Francisco. Witnesses said it flared several times over a few seconds before disappearing below the horizon, according to a report in the San Jose Mercury News.
"It's by far the brightest and longest I've ever seen,'' said Jake Burkart, an amateur astronomer who said he'd been watching shooting stars since his youth. "It was really amazing.''
Peter Jenniskens, an astronomer with the SETI Institute and NASA's Ames Research Center, told the newspaper that the event had the markings of comet debris, which is more fragile than asteroid material and therefore more likely to break apart and generate a bright flare.
The object may have landed in the ocean, Jenniskens said.
Jenniskens said the fireball might have been part of an unexpected shower of debris. Another bright meteor had been spotted five hours prior from Europe, he said.
Another bright and fiery object was seen in the night sky over Australia this past weekend, near the time of the Indian meteorite. No connection between the two has been made. An official in Australia said, however, that manmade space junk may have caused the curious event spotted from south of Queensland.
Space rocks frequently strike Earth's atmosphere. They are called meteors when streaking into the ever-denser air, where most vaporize. While in space they might be referred to as asteroids if they are large, or meteoroids if they are small. If they hit the ground, they're called meteorites.
Most of the smaller pieces light up fantastically, as shooting stars or fireballs, and never reach ground. It is not uncommon for residents of a particular region to be surprised or even shocked by a fireball, as space debris rains down on Earth daily.
Many visible shooting stars start out as bits no larger than a sand grain. It only takes a pea-sized object to generate a brilliant fireball. And even something the size of a Volkswagen can disintegrate before reaching the surface.
One that did not fully vaporize hit Roy Fausset's recently renovated bathroom Sept. 23 in New Orleans.
Fausset returned from work to find holes in his roof and two floors. A space rock was in a crawl space under the house.
"The powder room door was open and it looked like an artillery shell had hit the room," he told the Associated Press. Tests by Tulane University researchers suggest the object indeed came from space.
"I'm in shock," Fausset told the Associated Press. "Oh, that's scary. I will certainly go to church this Sunday, because the Lord was certainly sending me a message."
There are no known deaths by meteorites. But a few people have been injured




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