The School That Was Built By Meteorites

Lesotho is a small, landlocked nation in the middle of South Africa. Credit: Mandavi

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 of  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.

Some of the Thuathe meteorites bought by Mike Farmer and Eric Olson. Credit: Mike Farmer

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.

A woman in Thuathe found a 20-gram meteorite while working her cabbage field. Credit: Mike Farmer

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.

The new Boquate Lec School in Thuathe was built by the sale of meteorites from the 2002 fall. Credit: Mike Farmer via Michael Johnson

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.

3 Responses

  1. This is an amazing story! I live in South Africa and don’t recall ever hearing about this.. will have to make a trip there someday.
    I’m always looking forward to the next celestial event, but we don’t seem to get much here in SA.. The last amazing event for me was Comet McNaught – luckily I managed to get some spectacular photos!
    Thanks again for the great info on your site, Bob!

  2. Edward Phahamane

    Hope you are well…
    I’m currently a temporary IEC official stationed at Boqate LEC Primary School, a school that was built on funds collected from the sale of Thuathe meteorite rocks.

    The mere sight of the school together with the knowledge that it was built on funds of a meteorite brings on a feeling of gratification and sense of pride on behalf of the Boqate community.

    I would like forward my sincere thanking to the gentlemen who ventured into Lesotho to hunt for these rocks and in return gave back to the community of Boqate.
    I would also like edge Thuathe meteorite hunters that renovations for the school should soon be underway to help keep what they started in good shape.

    Keep well….

Comments are closed.