Meteorites Hit Wethersfield Twice

After the meteorite strke in Russia Friday we are republishing this April 2012 article about  two meteorite strikes in Wethersfield.

Fewer residents these days remember when space invaders landed in Wethersfield.

The celestial visitors were meteorites, chunks of rock that whizzed through the heavens and struck houses in 1971 and — against all odds — in 1982. And not since.

The meteorites, two of four ever found in Connecticut, were big news when they hit.

After the second impact, Roy Clarke, curator of meteorites at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., declared it "fantastically unusual" for meteorites to hit the same town twice: Like hitting two holes-in-one in the same round of golf is how a news account described the likelihood.

Since the first verified discovery of a meteorite in America, in Weston, Conn., in 1807, people have found about 1,600 meteorites throughout the country.

Other than Wethersfield, Honolulu is the only city or town with two recorded meteorite strikes, in 1825 and 1949.

Over the decades, the meteorites story has started to fade from memory in Wethersfield.

"Meteorites? Never heard of it," said Sue Schroeder, an assistant in the town clerk's office, which watches over town records dating to the town's founding in 1634.

But Ken Bastura, a reference librarian at the town's library for 12 years, said the library averages about one request a year from someone looking for information about the meteorite strikes. Many are from people out of state.

The Wethersfield Historical Society has an artifact of the 1982 strike, a piece of punctured roof that's in storage while its display case is being fixed, said Rachel Quish, a society spokeswoman.

Police Chief James Cetran, who joined the force in the 1970s, said he remembers the 1982 event.

"It was the talk of the town for quite a while afterward," said Cetran, who was off duty the night the meteorite hit a house at 461 Church St. "Everyone was talking about the odds of two meteorites hitting within a small distance within 11 years. There was speculation and fear that it could happen again."

The 1971 meteorite hit the home of Paul and Minnie Cassarino at 341 Middletown Ave. The couple sold the 12.3-ounce stone, which had to be dug out of the ceiling, to the Smithsonian for $1,000.

One news account said that Minnie Cassarino was worried about what strange things might be on the surface of the meteorite. Her son used a handkerchief to pick it up.

The 1982 meteorite is on display at Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven.

Robert and Wanda Donahue, who were watching TV when the projectile smashed through their roof and bounced around the living room, gave it to the university. It was found under a table by one of the volunteer firefighters who responded to what the Donahues called some type of explosion.

Karl Turekian, curator of meteorites at the Peabody, said the strikes were celebrated by scientists, who rarely have a chance to analyze a freshly arrived meteorite.

 

He said that Yale tried hard to obtain the 1971 meteorite but, from what he recalls, the family sold it to the Smithsonian "because their parish priest advised them to let the government have it."

Last week, there were reports of an unidentified object plunging into Bantam Lake in Litchfield. Nothing was found and no conclusions have been made, but a meteorite is among the possibilities.

Meteors plunge through the atmosphere at speeds of up to 500 mph, and frequently burn to dust. The trails are often orange-yellow, white or greenish. Most meteors never hit the ground; those that do are called meteorites.

Turekian said about a dozen meteors hit Earth each year. New England is usually not a good place to find meteorites — "too many boulders." Land that is flat and less rocky, such as Kansas and the world's vast deserts, yield more.

Antarctica, an ice desert, also yields meteorites, which become exposed as ice melts or shifts, pushing the stones to the surface, he said.

On rare occasions, a really large meteor slams into Earth. Our planet is marred by craters left by such impacts. A massive hit 65 million years ago into what's now the coast of Mexico caused so much havoc, with dust blocking the sun and chilling the world, that it's suspected of causing the widespread extinction of dinosaurs and two-thirds of all species then on Earth.

There are large impact craters scattered around the world — Arizona, South Africa, Russia, Quebec, Kentucky and Chesapeake Bay, which has a crater 90 kilometers across.

There is one confirmed hit of a human. In 1954, a woman in Alabama was struck in the arm by a small meteorite that fell through her roof and bruised her as she dozed on a couch.

In the 1790s, European scientists came to understand that rocks sometimes fall to Earth from the heavens. Before that, it was considered heresy to claim that rocks fall to Earth. The rocks that did hit were often blamed on witchcraft.

People who found meteorites sometimes tried to crack them into pieces, hoping that the interiors would yield gold, diamonds or some other riches. The rocks are only rich in iron or nickel.

But rocks from outer space can bring wealth. In 1992, a 30-pound meteorite slammed into a parked 1980 Chevrolet Malibu owned by Michelle Knapp, 18, of Peekskill, N.Y. It went through the trunk of the car, which was in her parents' driveway.

The event made the news and got her an offer from collector R.A. Langheinrich of Ilion, N.Y., to buy the smashed car and meteorite for about $100,000. He's exhibited the mangled car in France, Germany, Switzerland, Japan and in America to crowds interested in the car with "the trunk caved in by a visitor from outer space."