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COURT HOUSE - Scientists are asking residents who were lucky enough to witness a late afternoon fireball traveling from east to west Nov. 13 to keep an eye out for small, black rocks, which may have fallen on the streets, buildings, and yards around the Court House area. 

Data from eyewitnesses, video, and weather radar indicate that a meteorite fall may have occurred in or near Court House and Sea Isle City about 4:30 p.m., according to Marc Fries, a scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas, who works on using publicly available data to find meteorite falls. 

Fries said the rocks are “dark, almost black inside. There is a thin rind on the outside that looks like a pottery glaze, called ‘fusion crust.’ Fusion crust forms when the outside of the rock is flash-melted during passage through the atmosphere." 

“If anyone finds one of these, they should handle it with a fresh piece of aluminum foil instead of with their bare hands,” he advised. “The meteorite will not hurt you, but oils, dirt, and other contaminants from your hands will hurt the meteorite.” 

Fries said the weather can destroy the rocks, as well. 

If anyone finds a rock, they can email a photo to marc.d.fries@nasa.gov who will advise the sender on what they found and what lab may be interested in it.  

NASA does not purchase meteorites, but Fries said other options exist for identifying potential meteorites, including the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., nearby universities and private dealers. 

Fries said if a rock is found, it is likely from the Taurids, an annual meteor shower associated with the Comet Encke, which occurs mid-October through mid-November.  

“We’ve never had a meteor that’s fallen from a comet,” Fries noted, “because most fall from asteroids.” 

He said scientists have not had a sample from a comet before, although a few spacecrafts have visited comets and collected samples.  

“There’s a lot we don’t know about comets, but there are two reasons we want to know more: Science and safety,” Fries explained. 

From a scientific perspective, a comet is composed of materials such as simple organic compounds, ice and other materials that populated the earth in its early stages. The materials would provide data important to the earth’s origins. 

From a safety perspective, Fries said there is a “slight possibility that a comet could collide with the Earth” and if scientists knew what they were composed of, they would be able to advise what to do if this were to happen. 

To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com. 

 

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