The Wethersfield Meteorite
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Stony meteorite
Wethersfield (1982), stony meteorite (YPM MET. 000685); picture width: 10 cm

Although some thousands of meteorites fall to the Earth each year, only five to ten of them are immediately recovered. Any witnessed meteorite fall, anywhere, is a noteworthy event, but the fall of the Wethersfield meteorite on November 8, 1982, was extraordinary for two reasons: it was the second meteorite to fall in the town of Wethersfield, Connecticut, in the incredibly short span of 11 years, and it crashed through the roof of a house without injuring the occupants, as the first Wethersfield meteorite had also done.

 

For three or four seconds at about 9:17 p.m. that November 8th, joggers, dog-walkers, motorists, anyone who was looking at the sky and facing in the right direction — toward central Connecticut — in an area that included southern New Hampshire and Vermont, Massachusetts, New York State and New Jersey, as well as Connecticut, caught a breathtaking and wonderful sight: a ball of fire streaking across the sky. To some it appeared greenish with a long yellow tail; to others, orange-yellow or white. Many saw it seem to break into several pieces. Observers in towns near Wethersfield saw the entire sky lit up as if by lightning, and, after the fireball disappeared, they heard loud reports like gunshots.

Wanda and Robert Donahue were watching television in their house on Church Street when they heard a loud, muffled thud that sounded as though a truck had come through the front door. Rushing to the front of the house they were stunned to find a hole in their living room ceiling, plaster debris, and the air filled with what they thought was smoke. A quick check upstairs showed a second hole in the roof.

At 9:18 Mr. Donahue telephoned the Wethersfield police to report an explosion. The police dispatcher relayed the call to the Wethersfield Volunteer Fire Department, which was at the house within minutes. After a short period of general head-scratching and puzzlement, one of the firemen spotted a grapefruit-sized rock underneath the dining room table and correctly deduced that it was a meteorite. The “smoke” had really been plaster dust from the ceiling.

Local newspapers and television stations were monitoring the police telephone line and were quick to pick up the story. The news spread at once. Within a day or two, newspapers around the world had published front-page accounts of the phenomenon.

The meteorite picked the right house to drop in on if it was looking for intellectually perceptive earthlings. The Donahues immediately allowed it to be borrowed for important tests. They permitted scientists at several institutions to work on fragments to extract as much information as possible. Professor John Longhi, Faculty Affiliate in the Meteorite Division of the Museum, studied its chemical composition and mineral structure using the electron microprobe in the Yale Department of Geology and Geophysics. Best of all, the Donahues generously lent their meteorite to the Peabody for a unique exhibition at the Museum in early 1983 and in 1985 donated it to the Museum where it can be seen on display in the Hall of Minerals, Earth and Space.

Adapted from “The Wethersfield Meteorite” by Barbara L. Narendra. 1983–1984. Discovery 17(1):27–28.

 

Also see the story of the Weston meteorite.

During the spring of 2013 two more meteorites struck Connecticut homes. The first one came through the roof of a house in Wolcott on the evening of April 19, 2013. The second one hit the gutter of a house in Waterbury and was found buried in the lawn at the back of the house on May 8, 2013. An account on the identification of these latest Connecticut meteorites can be found here.