Only One Woman Has Ever Been Struck by a Meteor

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Meteorites are powerful, as the dinosaurs learned 66 million years ago. The meteor that wiped them out extinguished 75 percent of life on Earth and may have also triggered underwater volcanic eruptions. But not every meteorite makes such a splashy impact.

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The Meteor That Left a Bruise

Take the 1954 meteor that hit Ann Hodges. It began with an explosion in the sky above southeast Alabama in early December. A meteor had shattered on contact with Earth's atmosphere, painting an arc of red light across the sky.

Hodges didn't see it, though. She wasn't an astronomer. She wasn't even outside. She was a normal lady napping on her couch in Sylacauga, Alabama. That is, until a meteorite — a shard of the exploded space rock, weighing about 8 pounds (4 kilograms) — crashed through her roof, ricocheted off her radio, and hit her in the hip. It left a dark, elliptical bruise serious enough to require medical attention.

Hodges didn't die, but crowds did flock to her patio to see what happened.

Hodges wasn't the first person to claim to have been hit by a meteorite, but she was the first person whose claim was verified. A field representative for the U.S. Geological Survey looked at the rock and confirmed that, yes indeed, it was a meteor, fresh from outer space.

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After the Extraterrestrial Encounter

This was a borderline miraculous event, but it swiftly became the opposite of a miracle: a bureaucratic battle.

First, the meteorite was turned over to the Air Force to make sure it wasn't Soviet spy technology. (In 1954, the U.S. was in the thick of the Cold War, and suspicions, even of rocks, ran high.) Once the Air Force deemed it innocuous, the rock entered the legal system. A question of extraterrestrial property rights emerged: Who owns meteors that fall from the sky? Hodges felt the meteorite belonged to her. It hit her, after all! The public agreed. However, Hodges was a renter, and her landlady felt similarly entitled to the rock. It hit her property, after all!

The disagreement had all the makings of a protracted case — there was literally no precedent for it — but ultimately, Hodges and her landlady settled out of court. The landlady took the rock and paid Hodges $500.

Later, though, the meteorite got back to Hodges, and later still, she and her husband donated it to the Alabama Museum of Natural History, where it remains to this day. Called, interchangeably, the Sylacauga Meteor and the Hodges Meteor, it's displayed alongside the Philco radio it grazed as it fell to Earth. The exhibit feels warranted, as the meteor really was one of a kind. It remains the one and only extraterrestrial to hit a human without killing them.

What happened to Hodges was (and still is) incredibly unlikely. "You have a better chance of getting hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane all at the same time," Michael Reynolds, a Florida State College astronomer and author of the book "Falling Stars: A Guide to Meteors & Meteorites," told National Geographic.

Unlikely doesn't mean impossible, though. Both Hodges and the dinosaurs learned that firsthand.

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Written by Mae Rice March 21, 2019
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