Monday, September 21, 2009

The Day NASA called Me

The night the meteorite fell on my small town, a lot of people missed it because they were inside watching television.
I was outside on the patio, which faces due north, at 10 p.m. one July night. I glanced up at the sky.
A fireball blazed an orange flaming path vertically down the sky.
For seconds I gaped at it, until the flame disappeared behind the tree line.
A plane was going down!
I shoved back my chair, dashed into the house, grabbed the car keys, and raced up the road, looking for the flaming debris.
A helicopter circled in the northern sky, its searchlight beaming down into what appeared to be the riverbed. Then it headed off in the direction of the airport.
But I saw no impact area, came home, and called the sheriff’s office to report what I saw.
I was told it was a meteor shower. But I am an enthusiast of meteor showers, have stayed up late and driven far to see them. I know the difference between a bunch of shooting stars and a flaming mass headed for the earth in my neighborhood.
The first person I saw the next day was a lady named Dolly. She had seen the same thing I saw, and it was headed right for her bedroom! She saw the flames, heard the whistle of a speeding object, and saw what she thought was an impact out the window of her house near the golf course.
We got online with the trusty little computer and searched for meteors. Dolly left to go look for meteorites. I hooked up with a science site and found a photo of a great fireball that struck the Yukon in January 2000.
That led me to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and an email address for Ron Baalke, a fellow who knows lots about meteors.
I sent him a message about our event here in Paso Robles, described the fireball, asked a few questions, then went back to my work.
That’s when NASA called my office.
Our fireball intrigued Ron Baalke enough that he tracked down the my office web site, found our phone number and then called me up.
He’s a near-earth-object specialist, he said. He’s one of the guys who hunt the asteroids that might be hazardous to Earth’s health. “We think there are about a thousand of them,” he said. “We’ve identified about half of them.”
That gives you pause, doesn’t it?
Anyway, fireballs like ours, he said, are normally either space junk or a large meteor. Space junk was out since debris wasn’t scheduled to reenter Earth’s atmosphere on that date.
So there’s a decent possibility that the local fireball was “a reasonably large meteoroid,” said Ron. “It’s very possible the object survived the passage through the atmosphere and reached the surface as meteorites.”
And maybe the bits landed within—oh, say—50 miles of the downtown park.
Ron suggested Dolly, myself, and a few other witnesses triangulate our views to find the true location of the fall site. If we can find it, we can look for meteorites—“black rocks,” he said, “any size, from a thimble to a bowling ball.” They’ll have a dark crust with an interior of a different color.
Are fireballs like ours fairly common? I asked.
“They’re reported roughly once a month around the world,” Ron said, “but they’re actually more common than that.” There’s a lot of ocean and unpopulated land out there, he reminded me.
“What made you call me?” I asked him, still dumbfounded that NASA personally telephoned me in Paso Robles.
“You were the only person in the state who contacted me about the event,” Ron said.
Which just goes to show where a few questions in the right direction, even at the top, will get you.

Ph0t0 courtesy NASA


Karen said...

My sister swears one of these followed her in the road once when she was driving on a country road at night. Of course, she thought it was sentient. Hmmm...I wonder...

Tall Kay said...

That is so cool that you saw it! Did you ever find it? That's why I don't watch TV...too much life was already missed while I was drinking. Happy Monday!

Steve E. said...

What an interesting story. In the end, only one responded to the right person with questions--YOU.

I hope it's not like that with God one day, when He goes to a town and tells someone, "Well, you were the only one who stayed in contact with me...."

See, we can analogize just about anything, and bring it around to the god as I understand It.


enchantedoak said...

To Tall Kay and anyone else curious if we found the impact zone or meteorites: Dolly found a black rock on the golf course and we sent it to NASA, who said it was rock. I called Ron Baalke with the witness reports and their locations. That's when he said it probably came down about 50 miles north of us, which happens to be a National Guard base. When I called them, they said...Nope; didn't see it.
So the meteorites are still out there somewhere.
And Steve E: Love your analogy. I'm just thankful I got to see it, and God as I understand Him blessed my socks off!

Gin said...

This has to be one of the coolest things I have ever read! I'm sure that there are very few people that have ever experienced what you did. We are all just too BUSY to LOOK UP! :-) Awesome!

Paula said...

As Gin said that is supercool. And we dont look up very often. I remember begin of this year where I spent 3 months in Tampa which a scheduled launch of space shuttle. I stared and stared at the night sky 110miles East and nothin happens. I couldnt believe it. I was soexcited and didnt see a thing! 15min later I figured via the web that the start had been delayed ;-)) Havent seen anything go up OR down yet.

big Jenn said...

Very cool! jeNN

Syd said...

It is very interesting. I find them fascinating too.

joey said...

Wow! The only thing like that I've seen is a launch from Vandenberg and they are going the other direction-- up! Meteorites must look a little like the black lava on the Big Island. Hard to walk on. Sharp.

the walking man said...

If it landed fifty miles north then I suppose it best you were fifty miles south, That thing could cause a rather nasty bump on the head, which then would make for an even nastier tabloid headline.

Dr.John said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog.
I enjoyed your story.
People no longer report sightings because they are so used to bheing ignored by the government " experts".

Dave King said...

That is one fabulous story, and very well told. Play your cards carefully, you should be able to dine out on that for yonks!

Glynis said...

How wonderful, a story for life.

Prayer Girl said...

Hey I just discovered you through your comment on my blog. Thank you so much for letting me meet you by commenting.

This blog is fascinating. I will be reading you.


enchantedoak said...

When I published the sighting in the local paper, I had people stop me all over town, telling me their experiences of the meteor. It was great fun.
I'm including this story in my funeral,which I have already written in case they don't pick the highlights of my life to my satisfactions.
Prayer Girl,
I'm glad to meet you. I have followed you around a bit. Nice to have you visit my humble abode.