Just got news this morning that a meteorite weighing a little more than 2 lbs. fell through a roof of a home in Soltmany village in northern Poland over the weekend. The visitor from space hit the home at 6 a.m. local time and broke into several pieces. On first inspection, it appears to be stony meteorite or one derived from the outer crust of an asteroid.
A piece of the stone will be taken to Wroclaw University of Technology in Poland for analysis and classification. The meteorite appears to be ‘shield shaped’ or what astronomers call ‘oriented’.Â Instead of tumbling chaotically as it fell through the air, the rock achieved a stable flight with one side facing forward. This allowed the heated air to strip off material on the leading side in a regular manner, forming a nose-cone or shield shape.
The design of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space capsules that returned astronauts to Earth from orbit was based on the same aerodynamic, shield-shape of oriented meteorites. Scientists needed a stable, effective way to handle the heat generated during a high-speed re-entry. As often happens, nature provided the answer.
I’ll have more information in the coming few days about the new meteorite, the first witnessed fall of 2011. You can also watch this TV news video (in Polish) with scenes from the town or check out the Polish Wiki entry. As of December 2010, 1,091 documented falls of meteorites have been recorded. About a half-dozen falls are seen each other; many more are ‘finds’, or meteorites that fell long ago and discovered in desert areas like the Sahara or by science teams in Antarctica.
The moon returns to the sky tonight as a thin crescent low in the west-northwest sky after sunset. It’ll be joined by the star Aldebaran to its left. Watch for the pretty scene about a half hour after sunset and later.
Finally, I want to apologize for an error in the finder maps in Monday’s blog for the new supernova in the galaxy NGC 3972. I inadvertently flipped the Big Dipper the wrong way when making the map and put the galaxy on the wrong side of the Bowl. Ouch! The charts have been corrected and triple-checked for accuracy. Those attempting to spot the supernova will undoubtedly find them more useful now … ahem.