October 9

This Day in History

Automotive

Oct 9, 1992:

Meteorite crashes into Chevy Malibu

On this day in 1992, 18-year-old Michelle Knapp is watching television in her parents' living room in Peekskill, New York when she hears a thunderous crash in the driveway. Alarmed, Knapp ran outside to investigate. What she found was startling, to say the least: a sizeable hole in the rear end of her car, an orange 1980 Chevy Malibu; a matching hole in the gravel driveway underneath the car; and in the hole, the culprit: what looked like an ordinary, bowling-ball–sized rock. It was extremely heavy for its size (it weighed about 28 pounds), shaped like a football and warm to the touch; also, it smelled vaguely of rotten eggs. The next day, a curator from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City confirmed that the object was a genuine meteorite.

Scientists estimate that the Earth is bombarded with about 100 pounds of meteoric material every day. Meteorites are pieces of asteroids and other debris made of rock, iron and nickel that have been orbiting in space for billions of years. Some are as tiny as dust particles and others are as huge as 10 miles across; most, however, are about the size of a baseball. Astronomers and other people who pay attention to the night sky can easily see them: When a meteorite enters the Earth's atmosphere, it blazes across the sky like a fireball. (What most people call "shooting stars" are actually meteorites.)  Thousands of people in the eastern United States saw the greenish Peekskill meteorite as it streaked toward Knapp's Malibu and many heard it too: one witness said that it crackled like a very loud sparkler. Scientists have determined that it came from the inner edge of the main asteroid belt in space, between Jupiter and Mars.

While meteorites are fairly common, a meteorite hitting a car is not: A car is, after all, a very small object on a very large planet. In fact, as far as scientists know it has only happened twice before--once in Illinois during the 1930s and once in St. Louis. Eventually, the famous Knapp meteorite was sold to a collector and two fossil dealers, who broke it into smaller chunks and sold those to a handful of other collectors and museums. The car, meanwhile, sold for $10,000 to Lang's Fossils and Meteorites in Cranford, New Jersey. It has been on display in New York, Paris, Munich and Tokyo.

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