Science & Technology

In 1992, a Meteorite Crushed This Family's Car

Aside from one infamous asteroid strike that happened 65 million years ago, you just don't hear about objects from space hitting the Earth very often. It's not as if it doesn't happen; meteorites just don't hit the ground enough to have a major impact on our day-to-day lives. Unless, of course, you parked your Chevy Malibu in the exact wrong place.

Related: How Can You Tell If a Meteorite Came from Mars?

Crush Upon a Star

In fact, the planet gets a pretty healthy dose of meteoric material every day: about 60 tons of it, to be precise. Most of it is a light cosmic dusting or a baseball-sized missile at best. Even those larger meteorites aren't likely to hit anyone — assuming it didn't burn up in the atmosphere, a baseball would have pretty slim odds of striking dry land, not to mention actually hitting a person, much less someone's car.

But that's exactly what happened one fateful October day in 1992. 18-year-old Michelle Knapp was relaxing in her parents' living room watching TV when she was suddenly shaken by the sound of an enormous crash from the driveway. She ran outside, where she found her bright orange 1980 Chevy Malibu with a smoking hole punched all the way through the trunk. Below the car, she found a crater in the ground itself, and at the bottom of that crater, a bowling-ball-sized rock weighing 28 pounds (12.7 kilograms) and smelling of sulfur. The next day, a curator from the American Museum of Natural History confirmed what the Knapps suspected: this rock had fallen from outer space.

The meteorite that christened what would come to be known as the Meteorite Car was well documented before that fateful impact. It shot across the sky with a green-tinted tail and was filmed by several different amateur astronomers. Even after the strike, the story of the meteorite wasn't over. The space rock was split into smaller chunks and purchased by several different fossil and meteorite collectors. The car, meanwhile, was sold for about $10,000 (not bad considering that it ran for about $6,000 new) and eventually ended up in the full-time custody of the Macovich Collection of Meteorites. Also, it might not be roadworthy anymore, but it's still traveled around the world — the Meteorite Car has been on display in museums from Tokyo to Paris.

It Definitely Hurt When It Fell from Heaven

As rare as the situation was, it wasn't the first time that somebody had a surprising encounter with an interplanetary object. In fact, in 1954, Ann Hodges had a much closer encounter when a meteorite crashed through the roof of her Alabama home and struck her while she was sleeping. She survived, thankfully, although her story was not necessarily a happy one.

Soviet panic led to many questions about the origins of the meteorite, but eventually, scientists and authorities agreed that the rock was almost certainly not created by communists. The public came to the consensus that the space rock should remain in Ann's hands — and she was happy to take it, saying, "I think God intended it for me. After all, it hit me!"

But her landlord, Birdie Guy, thought the rock should be in her possession instead, seeing as how it had fallen on her property. While the law was on Guy's side, popular opinion eventually drove her to concede the rock to Hodges. Unfortunately, Ann eventually suffered a nervous breakdown, which her husband Eugene ascribed to the flurry of attention. She passed away from kidney failure about 10 years after that unlucky strike.

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Want a meteorite of your own? You don't have to live through the ordeal of catching one of the universe's foul balls. These fragments of the Campo del Cielo meteorite hit the planet some 4,000 years ago. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Reuben Westmaas October 26, 2018

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