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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1999 > Feb > Feb 1

Meteoritologist Researches Decades Old Fireball

From: Stig Agermose <stig.agermose@get2net.dk>
Date: Sun, 31 Jan 1999 07:04:15 +0100 (MET)
Fwd Date: Mon, 01 Feb 1999 09:45:32 -0500
Subject: Meteoritologist Researches Decades Old Fireball

Source: The Kansas City Star






Meteoritologist researches story behind decades-ago fireball

By JOE POPPER - Columnist
Date: 01/29/99 22:15

About 85 years ago, an extraterrestrial intruder came to the
hilly, glacial terrain of central Buchanan County, Mo., some 40
miles north of Kansas City.

It had entered the Earth's atmosphere traveling at more than 12
miles per second. It arrived over Missouri amid a fireball
brighter than the sun.

As it neared the ground, it exploded with a sound that smashed
at eardrums. Its landing trembled the earth.

"It was like the end of the world," said J.B. Sampson, then a
young boy, now an old man.

Sampson is probably the only person still alive who actually saw
the dramatic last flight of the meteorite that crashed near the
small town of Faucett, between 1910 and 1915. (The date is
difficult to ascertain now because accounts of its landing

Although the meteorite's arrival created some local commotion,
no part of it was found at the time, and its arrival soon was

And then in 1965 a farmer named Carl Spencer struck a fragment
of strange-looking, iron-heavy rock while plowing a field.
Experts analyzed the rock and certified the meteorite. They
named it the "Faucett fall."

Little else was written about it until a man named Chris Timmons
came to the region, a quiet hunter in a seed cap following the
faint traces of a long-buried trail.

Timmons, 33, is an amateur meteoritologist (as distinct from
weather experts who are called meteorologists). In the time he
can spare from working his family's farm near Wheeling, Mo., and
from his job at an electrical supply company in Chillicothe, he
researches meteorites and other things.

"Actually, I research anything that catches my interest,"
Timmons said last week.

His studies are wide-ranging and unusual, and include the search
for unmarked pioneer graves and the art of falconry. Such
unbridled curiosity has moved his siblings (he is the 10th of 11
children) to label him, in a friendly way, he said, as "crazy."

Perhaps that is because his avocations are marked by that
uncommon purity of purpose that often attends unpaid work done
in search of self-earned knowledge and private joy.

In recent years, Timmons has studied meteorites -- those varied
and mysterious lumps of matter that are formed in space and land
on Earth. He spends many hours in the public library near his
home reading texts and scientific journals, and logs on to the
Internet for meteorite updates.

In 1996 Timmons turned his attention to the long-ignored Faucett

Only five knew

He arrived in Faucett (population: 190) with little to go on
save the knowledge that a meteorite had once fallen nearby.

"Nothing substantial was written about it that I could find," he

A soft-spoken man who travels alone, Timmons began his inquiry
at the post office, where to his surprise nobody knew a thing
about a meteorite.

"I then walked around town talking to anyone I could find, but
no one I spoke to had ever heard of it," he said. "So I circled
the whole area on a map, went out into the countryside, and
began driving."

Armed only with a plat atlas, which was soon thumb-worn and
filled with Timmons' penciled notations, he spent more than 200
hours in the summer of 1996 on the back roads of Buchanan
County. He knocked on doors, asked questions and stopped to talk
with farmers in their fields.

"Interviews play the biggest part in my research," he said.
"Around Faucett I spoke to at least 200 people. But only five
knew about the meteorite."

Despite such odds, his work was aided by a stroke of luck.

"On the third day of my research, I met someone who had found a
fragment of the meteorite," Timmons recalled. "And he pointed
out the area of the field where it came from. That was my first

The farmer knew of several other finds, and that was a crucial
start. For as it is in real estate, so it is in meteorite
hunting -- location is everything.

>From the location of several fragments, and from their relative
size, a hunter like Timmons can begin to draw critical

That is because meteorites, encountering heavier atmosphere near
the ground, often disintegrate in flight, dispersing their
fragments across what is called a "strewn field."

And such fields tend to form distinct patterns. They are often
elliptical in shape, bulging in the middle, with the smallest
fragments found near the start of the meteorite's final path,
and the largest, those which had the greatest momentum, found at
the end.

"From fragment locations you can ascertain the direction of an
incoming meteor," Timmons said. "You can also estimate the
general area where other fragments may be found. Eventually you
develop almost a sixth sense, a feeling about what actually
happened. You can almost see it."

An odd, heavy rock

Timmons' second lucky break occurred when he met Larry Spencer,
a farmer whose father, Carl, had found the initial fragment of
the meteorite.

At the time of his father's discovery in 1965, the younger
Spencer was a geology student at Kansas State University. His
father sent him the odd-looking 15-pound rock.

"Farmers notice strange rocks," Spencer said last week. "And a
meteorite fragment is often unusual in appearance. It's heavier
than most rocks because of its metal content, and it's often
pitted from being burned as it enters the atmosphere."

Intrigued by his father's discovery, Spencer turned it over to
one of his professors. Bits of the fragment soon made their way
to the Smithsonian Institution, the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, the University of Kansas, the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration, and a Russian research facility.

But, Spencer said, the experts found that the fragment came from
what is called a stony, the most common meteorite form. Stonies
account for nine of 10 finds and are made mostly of stone rather
than of the more esoteric deep-space mineral compounds found in
rarer meteorites. Little further research was done.

Until, that is, Timmons came to town. Since then he has tracked
down at least 12 fragments of the meteor found by various
farmers and kept mainly as curios. Several of those fragments
were relatively large, including one football-sized 35-pounder
and another that weighed in at 64 pounds.

"Those finds affirmed my deductions," he said. "I believe the
meteor weighed about 200 pounds, came in from the southwest, and
fragmented along a path about six miles long (covering some 15
square miles). And I still think there's a major fragment out
there at the end waiting to be discovered."

'All shiny inside'

Having basically mapped the Faucett fall, Timmons has turned his
gaze south to several areas in rural Missouri where strewn
fields are known to exist.

One is in southern Cass County, where a man named H.O.
Mattingley recalls seeing something strange in the sky back in

"I was 7 years old, and I was standing with my dad one afternoon
as he was digging a well," Mattingley said last week. "Suddenly
I heard a series of cracking noises, real loud noises, maybe a
dozen of them. I looked up and saw black puffs of smoke, almost
like anti-aircraft shells bursting."

A short time later his uncle found a small piece of odd-looking,
heavy blackened rock.

"When we opened it with a hacksaw," Mattingley said, "it was all
shiny inside. It was something to see."

Timmons said he had looked inside many such shards, and the
excitement he feels at such moments propels his search for
further fields and fragments.

He does not seek evidence of cataclysmic events such as the huge
meteorite that smashed into Siberia in 1908 and destroyed
forests and fields for hundreds of square miles.

Nor does he seek the fame and riches acquired by Adm. Robert E.
Peary, who financed his entire 1909 North Pole expedition by
selling a 34-ton meteorite found in Greenland.

What he hunts for are rare traces of the unusual amid the
commonplace, the small and overlooked pieces of other worlds and
eons past whose existence and discovery add a dash of wonder to
his life.

"Every meteorite is a time traveler," he said. "Some have been
moving since the beginning of the universe. All are different,
and all are beautiful."

Anyone with meteorite information can write Chris Timmons at Rt.
1, Box 126, Wheeling, MO 64688, or call him at (660) 659-2214

To reach Joe Popper, call (816) 234-4756 or write to him at The
Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108

All content =A9 1999 The Kansas City Star

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