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Could you be struck by a meteorite?

By Ed O'Keefe

What are the chances of someone getting struck by a meteorite? It almost happened on Monday to Dr. Frank Ciampi at his office building in Lorton, Va.

Geologists and meteorite scientists Linda Welzenbach and Cari Corrigan of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History answered Washington Post reader questions on Friday and explained how it -- or the meteorite -- all went down.

Vienna, Va.: Not to be to morbid, but are there any recorded instances of persons being physically hit? Given the size and reported speed of this think I would assume it would have killed this very lucky doctor.

Linda Welzenbach: Hi Vienna, The last recorded impact on a human was in 1954, when the Sylacauga Alabama meteorite struck Elaine Hodges in the hip as she was napping on her couch. There is a famous Life magazine image of her showing her injury.


Safety Harbor, Fla.: If hit upon the head by this rock, could this have killed the doctor? What is the speed of entry, at ground level?

Linda Welzenbach: I would imagine that the impact would have resulted in some type of injury. We estimated that the terminal velocity can be up to 200 mph.


Morrisville, N.C.: Why no fire? I thought I learned that stones traveling fast through the atmosphere ended up red hot.

Linda Welzenbach: Atmospheric friction eventually slows the meteorite to the point where the fireball is extinguished (which is still several 10's of thousands of feet in the air). Meteorites are actually cool to the touch once they have landed.

Continue reading this chat >>>

By Ed O'Keefe  | January 22, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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