Meteorite that hit Northwest Georgia unveiled

CARTERSVILLE, Ga. -- A meteorite older than Earth itself, traveling millions of miles through space before blowing through an attic in Northwest Georgia, was unveiled Tuesday morning at the Tellus Science Museum.

"It's sort of interesting to ponder the journey this meteorite might have had," said museum curator Julian Gray.

Experts estimate the half-pound, peach-sized space rock was traveling between 50,000 and 70,000 mph when it entered the atmosphere on March 1, 2009. They estimate it was still moving at 200 to 300 miles per hour when it punctured a roof, bounced off of a joist, punched through a drywall ceiling and landed in a bedroom in a Cartersville home around 11 p.m. that night.

"I would suggest we all look at the fine print in our (insurance) policy," joked Jose Santamaria, executive director for the museum.

Held in a special airtight case, the meteorite will go on display at the museum Thursday.

Officials at the museum said testing on the rock place its age at about 4.6 billion years old. Scientists generally estimate that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old.

No one was home when the space rock fell from the sky, but a neighbor reported hearing a sonic boom. The homeowner, who brought the rock to Tellus in August, wishes to remain anonymous and museum officials declined to discuss the location of the find.

Mr. Gray said the meteorite's discoverer was not sure exactly what the rock was.

"The first thought was that kids were throwing rocks through the window," he said.

After noticing the hole in the roof, the homeowner thought the rock might be from a quarry blast.

Once the find was brought to the museum, it didn't take the staff long to determine its cosmic origins.

"I think I identified it before I touched it," said Dave Gheesling, a founding member of the Georgia Meteorite Association.

METEORITE AT A GLANCE* Weight: 294 grams, or about half a pound* Age: 4.567 billion years old* Speed at impact: 200 to 300 mph* Speed at entering atmosphere: 50,000 to 70,000 mph* Type: Ordinary chondrite* Contents: Iron, nickel, other elementsSource: Tellus Science Museum

Residents, especially around areas like Cartersville, where mining blasts are common, bring Mr. Gheesling more than 1,000 "meteorwrongs" every year. The stones are usually river rocks, iron ore or metal slag mistaken to be from outer space.

The Cartersville rock, thought to have originated in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is the 25th meteorite found in Georgia.

Mr. Gheesling said the rock is a little larger than most of the meteorites he's seen, but documented specimens range from 60 tons to the size of an English pea.

The Cartersville meteorite probably lost a good bit of its mass as it burned through Earth's atmosphere and other fragments may have splintered off during decent, Mr. Gheesling added.

He said space rocks likely fall undetected in many areas of the state and their exposure to oxygen and region's humidity hasten their deterioration.

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