Meteor Crashes in Chicago Suburb
March 27, 2003 9:36 AM   Subscribe

A meteor hit the Chicago south suburbs last night, and the flash was seen as far away as Ohio. This flash was also caught on video. I missed the flash, which lit up the night sky like a nuke attack. Did anyone else see it?
posted by Sal Amander (59 comments total)
so cool!!! thanks for the links!
posted by evening at 9:47 AM on March 27, 2003

I've already been in trouble for suggesting that that was a fake picture because it was too bright.

Still seems bloody bright to me, considering most meteors burn up in the upper atmosphere, to create that much light and sound it must have been huge, but the only pics I've seen are of a tiny thing...
posted by twine42 at 9:50 AM on March 27, 2003

Just to be snarky, it was a meteorite, right? If an actual meteor hit Chicago, wouldn't there... like... not be a Chicago anymore?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:52 AM on March 27, 2003

Oh come on - that is just a chunk of asphault used to take the publics attention away from the real issues of the day. Namely the fact that important scientific material is now being used as a prop on local TV channels.
posted by DragonBoy at 9:56 AM on March 27, 2003

must have been huge, but the only pics I've seen are of a tiny thing...

um, what's confusing you here? the only pics you've seen are the remnants that survived the trip through the atmosphere, right? or are there pics of the thing during descent? even so, how could you possibly make a size determination from a pic like that?
posted by quonsar at 9:59 AM on March 27, 2003

This is a tie-in with The Core, right?
posted by ed at 10:03 AM on March 27, 2003

The White House is saying that the damage could have been caused by an Iraqi meteorite.
posted by mkultra at 10:06 AM on March 27, 2003

Although the picture on the link looks like granite (I was skeptical also), you should view the video. The rock that the news reporter holds up looks different, and more like a meteorITE, with pock marks and craters. It's worth watching the video. I used to live about 2 blocks from where this thing supposedly hit, and let me tell you, I wouldn't put it past the residents there to grab a couple of decorative stones and yell "I have a piece of it here too.".
posted by Sal Amander at 10:09 AM on March 27, 2003

The White House is saying that the damage could have been caused by an Iraqi meteorite.

Remember when Saddam was building the Super Gun? Maybe he developed the Super Slingshot and is lobbing rocks at us.
posted by Sal Amander at 10:11 AM on March 27, 2003

Save us, Bruce Willis!
posted by tomorama at 10:18 AM on March 27, 2003

Would the value of the meteorite offset the damage caused by it?
posted by thomcatspike at 10:21 AM on March 27, 2003

XQUZYPHYR -- regarding meteor/meteorite, size doesn't matter:

Meteor \Me"te*or\, n.
Any phenomenon or appearance in the atmosphere, as clouds, rain, hail, snow, etc.

Meteorite \Me"te*or*ite\, n.
A mass of stone or iron which has fallen to the earth from space.
posted by mazola at 10:21 AM on March 27, 2003

Here's a few screen captures of the meteorite in the video.
posted by Sal Amander at 10:21 AM on March 27, 2003

XQUZYPHYR: Technically, a meteor is the thing you see in the sky, while a meteorite is the thing you find on the ground. So I suppose it's technically impossible for a meteor to cause any damage on the ground, since once it hits the ground it becomes a meteorite. IOW, yeah, they got their terminology wrong, but not in the way you thought. On preview, mazola beat me to it.

As for the size issue, twine42: check out this page. Most of the meteors you see in your run-of-the-mill meteor shower are much smaller than the chunk shown in the picture — between 1 millimeter and 1 cm in diameter. It wouldn't surprise me if an eight-inch chunk like that would be damn bright.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:23 AM on March 27, 2003

Wow! Had I not been in my local fake-Irish pub with a friend, I probably would have seen it. Oh well.
posted by me3dia at 10:26 AM on March 27, 2003

This is a tie-in with The Core, right?

That's taking guerilla marketing to a whole new level. Reason #45,823 that marketing is evil.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:28 AM on March 27, 2003

Also: stalactite/stalagmite:

Stalactites hang down from the ceiling, like tights drying on a clothesline.

Stalagmites grow up from the floor, and do not sound like "tights."

(Because you smartypantses beat me to meteor/meteorite/meteoroid.)
posted by steef at 10:28 AM on March 27, 2003

Okay, now meteoroids, those are the things from outer space that latch onto your body and drain your life force, right? And if you want to kill them you have to freeze them and then hit them with missiles.
posted by bargle at 10:34 AM on March 27, 2003

damnit, and i missed it!

probably better. i would have been convinced we were being attacked, and you would have been able to hear my howls of fear from wherever you are.
posted by sugarfish at 10:40 AM on March 27, 2003

yeah, fer fuck's sake! clicked the link just hoping, "don't be touching it, don't be touching it..." and there it is, firmly hand-modeled for the camera. It's like the cautionary tale of The Blob and its 1988 remake DON'T EVEN EXIST!!
posted by damehex at 10:40 AM on March 27, 2003

I didn't see anything last night (I'm a north-sider), but the coverage this morning on the local CBS affiliate had me fainting with laughter. Did anyone else see the guy interviewed? Do you know the guy Sal Amander?

"So, I'm in my computer room at about 12:30, and this meteor hits my window! It sounded like a nuclear attack. It was bad, man."
posted by footballrabi at 10:42 AM on March 27, 2003

Did a gelatinous blob issue forth from the wreckage, swallowing all in its path? Because C02 will work on that baby! On the other hand, if it was a Triffid, you'll need salt water, and plenty of it. Finally, if it just released spores that cause you to get sleepy and grow a duplicate in a pod, never mind, continue about your business... you are getting sleepy...
posted by jonson at 10:52 AM on March 27, 2003

Damn--someone beat me to it. I thought I'd finally have a FPP. I live about 12 miles from Park Forest, IL where the meteorites impacted. I saw the flash out my office window. It lit up like daylight for several seconds. (The video does not do it justice.) My first reaction was WTF was that? Being an amateur astronomer and intimately familiar with all sorts of phenomena in the sky, I knew this one was obviously different. It took me about 30 seconds to get outside. By then there was nothing to see. The sky was mainly clear so I thought lightning was an unlikely explanation. About 1 minute after the flash, I heard what sounded like distant thunder rolling, which continued for at least 30 seconds of continuous rumbling.

Like Sal Amander's comment, the first thing that came to mind was some kind of bomb attack. I remembered how a few hours earlier, my wife and I watched from the backyard as a small, propeller-driven plane continuously flew orbits above our town for over an hour. When I saw the flash and heard this noise I put these things together in my mind and started thinking the worst.

The thing that upsets me now is that I watched a local news spot showing a Park Forest policeman holding several large chunks of the meteorite (the larger being the size of a cantelope) which had crashed through the roof of a house and hearing how the police had confiscated the rocks "as evidence." WTF?! The homeowner was oblivious to just how valuable these things are. (The rock is probably worth more than his house.)

On preview: the flash would definately be visible from the north side of Chicago. Reports have come in from four states. This happened almost exactly at midnight CST, not 12:30. I was sitting at my computer when it happened and I looked at the clock.
posted by AstroGuy at 10:53 AM on March 27, 2003 [1 favorite]

Call up the Starship Troopers!
posted by kirkaracha at 10:56 AM on March 27, 2003

After watching the 2nd video that I posted, and seeing the damage that this caused, I am obligated to retract my statement about the residents of Park Forest making it up. To my utter amazement, it looks like meteorites did actually hit their houses. What a weird, and cool, story!
posted by Sal Amander at 11:00 AM on March 27, 2003

I do remember seeing a brief flash outside last night, and I'm about eight miles north of Detroit. Then I turned back to my intensely close cribbage game.

Which I won, by the way.
posted by snarkywench at 11:03 AM on March 27, 2003

AstroGuy, you're right, those rocks are very valuable, and the owners need to fight to get them back.
posted by Sal Amander at 11:15 AM on March 27, 2003

I would not say more valuable than their house though..

Even pieces of historical interest do not seem to go for that much except for when when the chunks are huge.
posted by bargle at 11:26 AM on March 27, 2003

Maybe Bush, a God-fearing man, will take this as a warning shot from the Almighty.
posted by picea at 12:14 PM on March 27, 2003

I see meteors over Lake Erie a couple times a year.
posted by sadie01221975 at 12:21 PM on March 27, 2003

Maybe Bush, a God-fearing man, will take this as a warning shot from the Almighty.

Bush lives in Park Forest, IL? I did not know that.
posted by Sal Amander at 12:39 PM on March 27, 2003

Remember when Saddam was building the Super Gun? Maybe he developed the Super Slingshot and is lobbing rocks at us.

That's pretty biblical... Saddam (David) builds a giant sling shot and begins to hurl rocks at United States (Goliath). I'm not sure I like how that story ends... I'm moving to Japan, unless it gets blown into the sea by North Korea.

Kore sekai wa kichigaijimata ni kikei desu yo!
posted by SweetJesus at 12:58 PM on March 27, 2003

bargle: Not all meteorites are created equal. Iron meteorites are the most common and easily found (because they are magnetic) and the least valuable. Stony meteorites, which this one appears to be, are more rare and valuable. What makes these particularly valuable is the fact that they impacted houses, something that is exceedingly rare. Most meteorites that are found impacted the Earth at some unknown time in the past (many are found in the permafrost in Antarctica--the snow cover makes them easy to find). We have a historical moment here--that sets it apart. I won't even go into the possibilities if the rocks are determined to be of lunar or Martian origin (not very likely, but possible). At any rate, they belong to the people whose property they landed on. The police have NO business confiscating them.

sadie01221975: Meteors are seen every single night. Several tons of meteoric material hits the Earth every day, but most of it is very small particles. The "shooting stars" you see on a clear night are particles about the size of a grain of sand to the size of a rice grain. Particularly spectacularly bright meteors may be pea-sized. These all burn up in the upper atmosphere around 50 miles up.

The funny thing I heard on one news report is how the rocks crashed to Earth at over 50,000 mph! LOL. The kinetic energy of such an impact would have destroyed the house and probably most of the neighborhood. Rocks big enough to reach the ground either reach a terminal velocity of a couple hundred mph in the lower atmosphere (like these would have), or you have really big ones that the atmosphere doesn't affect much. The latter are the ones that cause huge craters and mass extinctions. These impact with energies in the range of thermonuclear weapons and greater.
posted by AstroGuy at 1:10 PM on March 27, 2003

The Peekskill meteor of 1992.
posted by Wet Spot at 1:27 PM on March 27, 2003

Bush lives in Park Forest, IL? I did not know that.
Hillary Clinton is from Park Forest, isn't she? We mustn't confuse having rocks in your head for wanting to cast the first stone, now, eh?
posted by DenOfSizer at 1:45 PM on March 27, 2003

Damn! So THAT 'S what the bright blue flashes I saw last night were...I live in Hyde Park, near the Museum of Science and Industry. The whole sky lit up blue and white, and gradually faded away over a couple seconds. I thought it was lightning, as we'd been having some thunderstorms earlier in the week...
posted by 40 Watt at 1:50 PM on March 27, 2003

so why did the sky flash like lightning? did the rock explode upon entering the atmosphere? in that peekskill meteor video, you see a green ball of flame, seems like a traditional version of the event.

question: the space shuttle that burned up in early febraury: if it had been nighttime, would there have been a huge flash like this one?
posted by joecacti at 1:52 PM on March 27, 2003

Maybe Bush, a God-fearing man, will take this as a warning shot from the Almighty.

If he didn't take the Columbia disaster that way, I doubt he'd trouble hisself about a lil' ol' meteor shower.
posted by spacewaitress at 2:02 PM on March 27, 2003

Maybe Bush, a God-fearing man, will take this as a warning shot from the Almighty.

Neither meteorites, nor sandstorms, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these soldiers from the swift completion of our appointed task.
posted by moonbiter at 2:47 PM on March 27, 2003

Just to add - I was driving up I-55 last night, and about 11:40, there was a similar flash of light - the muted grey, followed by a bright white burst. I wouldn't compare it to daylight - more like the Instamatic Flashbulb of the Gods. Anyway, I craned my neck to see what it was, and saw some burning pieces of carbon or something floating in the air about 20 feet from the side of the road.

I wondered if the meteorite (and its apparent brethren) were composed of a large amount of magnesium, since the light was so intensely bright white. Really impressive show, nonetheless. I hope I get a chance to experience that again sometime.

On another note, I was also doing about 80 at the time. If that meteorite were a couple of dozen feet to the left, I'd have had a lot of explaining to do to Enterprise:

"No, you see - it was a rock... from space."
posted by phong3d at 2:50 PM on March 27, 2003

I find myself (an devout atheist) wondering: meteors are hitting Chicago, talking fish in NY warn of end of the world in Hebrew, mystery illness spreads, Iraq is invaded, there is a snowstorm in Jordan in mid-March. Maybe the end of the world is nigh...
posted by talos at 3:14 PM on March 27, 2003

Meteor versus Earth: Earth wins!
However, MeteorITE versus Earth: Earth loses!

Oh whoops. Sorry. Wrong thread.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:16 PM on March 27, 2003

Since when does a big rock "light up the night sky" on impact?

I've thrown many a rock in my day, some of them may have even contained trace amounts of magnesuium, and not a single one lit up the night sky.
posted by hama7 at 3:21 PM on March 27, 2003

Hillary Clinton is from Park Forest, isn't she? We mustn't confuse having rocks in your head for wanting to cast the first stone, now, eh?

Sorry, that was Park Ridge, IL.
posted by Sal Amander at 4:06 PM on March 27, 2003

Does anyone else find it funny that the car that was hit by the Peekskill meteorite has been making a world tour?
posted by Sal Amander at 4:15 PM on March 27, 2003

hama7: Since when does a big rock "light up the night sky" on impact?

It's a matter of kinetic energy. A few hundred pounds of rock (I'd estimate based on the news reports I've seen--not just big rocks, but thousands of smaller fragments fell over a fairly large area) travelling at tens to hundreds of thousands of miles per hour hits the upper atmosphere and within seconds decelerates to about 200 mph. Where do you think that energy goes? I would not be surprised to hear that the energy released when the rock hit the upper atmosphere to be in the same order of magnitude as a small nuke. That's where the light came from. What hit the ground was inconsequential compared to the energies released 50 miles up.

phong3d: Just to add - I was driving up I-55 last night, and about 11:40, there was a similar flash of light

If it was 11:40 pm, this wasn't it. This happened at midnight CST. There were also thunderstorms in the west suburbs of Chicago at the time this occured (I looked at the local doppler radar at the time when I was trying to figure out what the flash was initially. I suspect that's what you saw.
posted by AstroGuy at 5:18 PM on March 27, 2003

you forgot to light it on fire, hama7.
posted by crunchland at 5:27 PM on March 27, 2003

oh hell yeah, thunderstorms are infamous for producing burning pieces of carbon or something floating in the air.
posted by quonsar at 5:30 PM on March 27, 2003

I'm flashing back to a bad KFC commercial (as if there are any other kind) in which they were promoting their new, meatier chicken wings or something. Some people have gathered to enjoy some tasty KFC and watch a meteor shower. Suddenly someone sees one and cries out, "Meteor!" "They certainly are," replies the KFC guy.
posted by kindall at 5:34 PM on March 27, 2003

Whatever quonsar, meteorites are also not known to float in the air "20 feet from the side of the road." I don't know what the hell that was, that's why I didn't address it. I do know, however that this occured, like I said several times, at almost exactly midnight CST. Given the speed of light, that flash would be seen anywhere in the midwest at the same time, not 20 minutes earlier. Either phong3d's clock was wrong or he witnessed some other phenomenon.
posted by AstroGuy at 6:12 PM on March 27, 2003

Thanks for the explanation, Astroguy. Next time I'll have to throw a hell of a lot faster.
posted by hama7 at 6:43 PM on March 27, 2003

I'm glad to know our Australian catapult technology is coming along well.
posted by Neale at 7:04 PM on March 27, 2003

Whatever quonsar, meteorites are also not known to float in the air "20 feet from the side of the road."

If you were near the thunderstorms you could claim it was ball lightning and then everybody would think you were crazy. Yes.
posted by bargle at 7:36 PM on March 27, 2003

I don't know what I saw, but I'm sure it wasn't a cute little falling star, where I'd be inclined to kiss my honey and make a wish. What I saw was a huge ball of flames, one gold, one blue and one white (over the course of a year). They were each there for about 2 seconds and looked to be falling in an arc shape out of the sky. Maybe it was a falling star and I should have made a REALLY BIG wish? I emailed my local weatherman at the time and he never replied :(
posted by sadie01221975 at 8:49 PM on March 27, 2003

For those of us still confused by the differences between meteors, meteorites and shooting stars--let Tom Glazer's song from the classic children's album "Space Songs" clue you in

Fans of TMBG (who appear to be quite numerous on MeFi) should also note that the same album has the original version of "Why Does The Sun Shine?"
posted by LimePi at 9:35 PM on March 27, 2003

sadie: My honey's an amateur astronomer too. After viewing thousands of meteors over the years, we only kiss anymore for the really big fireballs. ;-)

Seriously, we see dozens of the minor ones on any particular evening and the bolides you describe maybe a few times a year. Those come from rocks the size of peas, and they are not uncommon. Contrary to common belief, meteors can be seen any clear night (assuming your sky isn't overly light-polluted like mine) not just during meteor showers (of which the Leonids have made the national press the last few years because they were particularly heavy then). Also, contrary to what these newsdroid idiots are reporting tonight, this was NOT a meteor shower. (I really hate when the press does any stories on astronomy because they always screw it up and show their incredible scientific illiteracy.)

Meteor showers are associated mainly with comets and they occur at the same time each year when the Earth's orbit intersects a comet's orbit. The showers last several days (sometimes weeks) to either side of a peak date as the Earth passes through the debris "cloud." Dozens to hundred of meteors may be seen per hour during the peak and they will all appear to radiate from a specific point in the sky. Most showers are named for this radiant point: The Leonids radiant is in the constellation Leo, the Perseids radiate from Perseus, etc. Meteor showers do not produce meteorites. The material is simply too small (dust to sand grain sized particles) to survive entry into the atmosphere.

No, what we saw here was definitely what is called a "sporadic", a meteor not associated with a shower. One HELL of a sporadic. is reporting that the meteoroid when it hit the upper atmosphere was about 1 or 2 meters across and about 10 metric tons. I take back what I said about energies of a small nuke. This is more like an h-bomb. No wonder it was seen and heard all over the midwest. Good thing we have that blanket of air up there. Wouldn't want that hitting the ground unimpeded.
posted by AstroGuy at 9:45 PM on March 27, 2003

Astroguy - The clock was right - maybe 30 seconds off the station identification time from an NPR station I was listening to. Anyway, I can guarantee it wasn't lightning at all. First off, the sky was clear where I was - you could make out constellations clearly. There may have been thunderstorms in the area, but nothing was close enough for the lightning to have lit up the sky quite like this.

Basically, there were a few seconds of this medium grey - it could have been explained as distant lightning. However, the way the light ramped up in intensity was far different from lightning, almost like someone rapidly pushing up the slider on a klieg lamp instead of a flash of light. Naturally, I looked up and I saw what I can only explain as some small burning pieces of something in the air. I called it "carbon" because it resembled the hot remains of a charred piece of paper you might see if you were to throw one into a fireplace, floating above the flames.

When I was on I-55, it was just north of Pontiac, which is still a good ways off from any suburbs of Chicago. After seeing the flash (and figuring it to be a meteorite), I was looking for any other telltale light shows, and didn't see anything else from then until I got home at about 1am. As such, at midnight, the western suburbs of Chicago (where I live, incidentally) were still a ways over the horizon.
posted by phong3d at 8:35 AM on March 28, 2003

phong3d: I don't know what to tell you there, you've got me stumped. The light show occurred at midnight CST. That light came from an explosion of a 10 ton hunk of rock impacting the upper atmosphere at least 50 miles above the Earth's surface and vaporizing most of its mass in a matter of seconds. What you describe certainly sounds like a large meteor, but the time factor doesn't work out. The meteor, that is the visible phenomenon as opposed to the meteorite, the physical phenomenon which survived entry into the atmosphere, occurs at an extreme altitude so the local horizon is of no bearing. This was witnessed all over the midwest. And with the speed of light being 186,000 miles per second, that flash would be visible at the same instant over a huge area, including where you were at the time. You got me on that one.
posted by AstroGuy at 12:08 PM on March 28, 2003

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