The Whole World Has Meteor Fever

The Atlantic

From amateur astronomers to space junk traders to Canadian satellites makers to dashboard cam enthusiasts, the flaming Russian Meteorite has captivated the whole planet by offering a little something for everyone. Never in the history of things falling out of the sky, have people been so excited about a simple chondrite that's 10 percent metallic iron and nickel alloy.

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Almost immediately after the10-ton space rock burned up in the skies over Chelyabinsk, Russia, on Friday enterprising rock hounds began offering pieces of the meteorite for sale online. Some were asking as much $10,000, but as always when buying souvenirs that can easily be mistaken for regular old Earth rocks, let the buyer beware. We know it's hard to believe that someone operating an anonymous auction out of Central Russia might not be on the up-and-up, but best to consult your local geologist before giving out your PayPal address.

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Or better yet, give the rock to your local geologist, as actual scientists are eager to snatch up as much of the meteorite as they can. Local professors at Urals Federal University rushed to Chebarkul Lake, where the meteorite is believed to have crash landed, punching a 24-foot hole in the frozen ice before sinking to the bottom. They have found plenty of small fragments on the surface—and also collected some from people whose homes and heads were hit by debris—but also hope to find a much larger chunk of rock on the bottom of the lake. No one knows what microscopic secrets the rock might have been carrying, but the rare chance to study such a large find while it's still fresh has geologists and astronomers positively giddy.

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But meteorite fever isn't limited to Russians or space nerds. People in both California and Florida claimed sightings of bright flashing streaks over the weekend. Under normal circumstances they might have been dismissed as mere shooting stars, but after Chelyabinsk and Asteroid DA14, which passed perilously close to Earth, but skipped by, people are a little jumpy. It's also sparked renewed interest in this weird green meteorite that hit Morocco back in DecemberThis "shower" of meteor news even prompted Canada to throw a satellite into orbit to study asteroids and other Near-Earth Objects, in the hope of catching the next big shooting star. (Okay, the satellite has been in the works for years, but the timing of next week's launch could not have been planned out any better by the Canadian Space Agency's PR department.) Of course, the next time a massive space rock decides to pay us a visit, we might not be so lucky. 

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The spectacular videos of the Chelyabinsk"rocket" were so captivating, they've even spilled over into a new renewed fascination with Russian dashcam videos. Everyone wants to know why so many Russian cars have them—it's a defense against corrupt cops and insurance scammers mostly—but many would rather just watch people make death defying escapes from scary head-on collisions. (Don't try this at home.)

If nothing else comes out of the meteorites' one shining moment, at least most people now know (or should know) the difference between a meteoroid (a particle that's still hurtling through space), a meteor (the burning particle as it flies through the atmosphere), and meteorite (the leftover rock that actually hits the ground.) Finally, some news you can use.

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