On Tuesday, April 23, 2013, around nine o’clock in the morning, the phone on my desk rang. I picked up and the voice at the other end said it was Sgt. Brian Boutote from the Wolcott Police Department. Knowing I have a clean criminal record + a clear conscience, I told him right away he must have the wrong number!
Brian Boutote: No Sir, we have something we think might be a meteorite.
Stefan Nicolescu: In that case you probably called the right number. How did you get it?
BB: I called the museum admission desk and I was given your number.
Having experienced roughly 100 + meteor-wrongs (slag, basalt, iron ore, etc.) that members of the public have brought to the museum with the hope they have a legitimate meteorite, I was prepared to certify one more of the same.
So, I started interrogating Sgt. Boutote (couldn’t stop myself from thinking that usually the sergeant is the one asking the questions!):
SN: Is it black on the outside?
SN: Is it chipped or broken? Can you see how the inside looks?
SN: Is it light colored inside?
It sounded promising. For the first time since June 2010, when I started in my current position as Mineralogy Collection Manager, somebody was giving the expected answers. (Do they teach these at the Police Academy?! I wondered)
SN: Can you send me some pictures of it?
BB: Yes, I can.
SN: Please make sure you put a coin or a pen for scale next to it, so I can get an idea of its size. By the way, how big is it?
BB: About the size of a baseball.
SN: Is there any chance you can bring it to the museum so I can see it “in the flesh”?
BB: I’ll have to check with my boss, but probably yes.
SN: Thank you very much and am looking forward to seeing both the picture and the real thing. Have a good day!
BB: Thank you; you too Sir!
A few minutes later, an email with a couple of pictures landed in my inbox. I eagerly opened the attachments, and indeed the first impression gained during the phone conversation was confirmed: it did look like the real deal!
I sent Sgt. Boutote the following email:
Thanks a lot for the pics; the object does very much look like a legitimate meteorite; however, please do not release anything to the media yet (in terms that somebody from the Yale Peabody Museum has confirmed the potential extraterrestrial nature of the rock). Positive identification can be made only once I see the object.
When could you (and/or the poor people whose roof + ceiling were penetrated) stop by the museum?
Another question: this looks like the main recovered mass; were there smaller fragments recovered? Check the roof, gutters, attic and any other area that was in the path of the rock; hopefully the owners also carefully swept the floor in the room were the rock landed and kept everything.
Please let me know and thanks a lot for contacting the Yale Peabody Museum.
Shortly after my email exchange with Sgt. Boutote, Melanie Brigockas in the Yale Peabody Museum (YPM) Public Relations Office informed me that a news crew from one of the local TV stations would like to talk to somebody from the museum in front of the meteorite display in the YPM Hall of Minerals, Earth and Space.
A bit later Sharon Rodriguez, Executive Assistant in the YPM Director’s Office called, telling me she was in shock for a few seconds while listening to a voice mail message left by Chief Edward Stephens of the Wolcott Police Department. The Chief was telling her he was looking for me, with no further details; poor Sharon thought “what on Earth did Stefan do?”
I called Chief Stephens who told me he was sending an officer with the suspected meteorite to the museum for examination.
In the meantime the TV news crew arrived and after a short discussion in front of the museum case displaying the 1982 Wethersfield meteorite I headed for the Mineralogy Collection room, TV crew in tow. A few minutes later Angelo Mauriello, the Wolcott police officer bringing in “the suspect” arrived. The piece of evidence (the smaller of the two pieces the meteorite broke into upon impact) was appropriately brought into the room in an envelope labeled … “Evidence,” and for a brief moment all of us stopped breathing. I reached into the envelope and grabbed the specimen (at that moment, Fred Davis, who is one of our volunteers in the Mineralogy Division asked, “How does it feel?” and, with a wide grin on my face I said: “hot – extremely promising!”). The moment I pulled my hand out of the envelope and looked at the thing I knew I was holding a message from ET. It was a first: although I handled many meteorites before, I have never touched such a recent arrival. It was quite magical!
The extraterrestrial rock had (still has) all the hallmarks of a stony meteorite: charcoal black and very thin (less than 1 mm thick) fusion crust, smoothened edges, somewhat rough surface (“thumb prints” like those left by busy fingers in play dough), light colored interior, and ferromagnetism.
A closer look at the fresh interior surface under a binocular microscope evidenced the chondrules (1 – 2 mm spherical pellets) typical of this, most common type of meteorite: ordinary chondrite.
And then the carousel began: more TV news crews, phone ringing off the hook - radio stations, newspapers, colleagues. Everybody wanted to know how, what, when, why. That evening at least one of the subjects covered by the media was good news!
A reporter asked how we know this is an extraterrestrial rock. Instead of going through the whole list of evidence again, I simply said: because it doesn’t look like anything we have on Earth.
The big excitement about these “hammers” is generated because they hit something other than the ground. A saying I once heard goes: a dog biting a man is no news, but a man biting a dog is news! If some mischievous boy would have put a rock through Mr. Beck’s roof or window, that would have not been reason enough for TV news crews to congregate on his property, or to bring the rock to the YPM for identification. The excitement and significance of the event is totally different because the culprit is from interplanetary space. And the fact that out of now five observed meteorite falls in Connecticut three came through roofs of houses only 18 miles apart adds quite a bit to the narrative, and to Connecticut’s growing reputation as ET’s playground! It should also add a special clause to home insurance policies for Connecticut residents.
On May 8, 2013 another meteorite was recovered from Waterbury, CT resident Jay Langlois’ property, three quarters of a mile west of Larry Beck’s Wolcott, CT residence. Oddly enough the Waterbury meteorite also hit a building, going through the gutter at the back of Mr. Langlois’ house, and then landed on the lawn. A short PowerPoint presentation I put together about this latest Connecticut meteorite find is available here. Enjoy!