At 3:49 p.m. on July 21, 2002, a brilliant fireball streaked across the sky above the Kingdom of Lesotho (li-soo-too) not far from the capital city of Maseru. Only a few people saw the flash, because it was mostly cloudy at the time.
Moments later the fireball broke up with an extremely loud, 15-second long explosion and showered the small village ofÂ Thuathe (Too-AH-tay) with meteorites. Police reports at the time describe complaints from people that someone had thrown stones at them from the sky.
The reports brought scientists to the village, where they searched for and bought meteorites found by the locals. Six months later, Mike Farmer and Eric Olson, meteorite hunters from Arizona, flew to Lesotho and also purchased half a dozen pounds from the villagers. They also visited with a scientist from the University of Lesotho and bought additional meteorites from him. All told, about 1000 stones weighing a total of 100 pounds of the Thuathe meteorite fall were recovered.
Some of those specimens found their way for analysis and classification, others to museums and universities and still more were sold to meteorite collectors.
The Thuathe meteorites were covered in a black crust called fusion crust, a skin-thin layer of molten rock that forms around meteorites as they’re heated during their high-speed plunge through Earth’s atmosphere. When scientists analyzed the meteorite, they discovered it was a fairly common variety called a chondrite or stony meteorite. Chondrites were once part of the outer crust of an asteroid.
Witnessed meteorite falls occur maybe half a dozen times a year on our planet, so what makes this one particularly special?
Turns out, the money the local people and university made through the sale of the bulk of the meteorites to Farmer, Olson and another meteorite hunter, Michael Cottingham, was used to build a brand new school in the village. Many of the stones were collected by local schoolchildren. If that isn’t one of coolest ways to use a bunch of black space rocks, I don’t know what is.
I received the picture today in an e-mail and had to share the story with you. Thanks to the meteorite hunters’ efforts and the common needs of the villagers, a bit of heaven was fashioned into a place of learning.