Caroline Smith, et al
Forty to sixty tons of extraterrestrial stuff falls on the earth every year, but since most of us aren't where these things are falling, we don't get hit by them. Chance dictates that two meteorites larger than 2,000 pounds will come to visit earth each year, and the one that you and I don't want to be around for --- over 200,000 pounds --- will arrive every century.

It is claimed that a rather small one fell in 1992 in the Peekskill, New York area and banged up an old red 1970 Chevrolet. Another smashed into the Tunguska area of Siberia in 1908 and devastated a forest fifty meters wide. Another fell into Yorkshire, England, in 1975, but since people from Yorkshire don't believe in such things they turned the stone over to London where it still lives.

The one that hit Arizona created the Barringer Crater but unfortunately, it arrived too early --- 50,000 years ago --- to destroy Phoenix or even Bisbee.

The biggest visible crater remains in New Quebec, Canada, and covers an area of about two miles. The biggest invisible crater is at Chicxulub (not to be confused with ClubMed) on the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico. Evidently this one turned out more toxic to life than the internal combustion engine. It raised such a tempest that it killed off all the theropods, sauropodomorphs, ankylosaurians, stegosaurians, ceratopsians and ornithopods.

If you want a meteorite of your own, you have to go to the Nullarbor Desert in Australia or the Yamato Mountain area of Antarctica. I'm not so sure it is worth it, though. Meteorites are awfully homely, being made mostly of stone, iron, or stony-iron.

Just to confuse you, meteorites do not come from meteors. The latter come from the earth running into the tail of a comet, as the particles burn up in the atmosphere.

Comets have been branded as nothing but "dirty snowballs" by Fred Whipple, the British astronomer. My favorite after all these years is still Hale-Bopp, which sounds like a dance from the 50s but is really a comet which will turn up again long after you and I are no longer around, in 4385 or so.

Alan Hale saw the comet for the first time and sent an email to the "Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams," which is, apparently, not a place like Western Union but the place you call if you run into a comet. Thomas Bopp did the same, the same night. That's how they met, so you might consider the Bureau a meeting place for comet-lovers.

Meteorites come, mostly, from asteroids, the moon, Mars, and Arizona. Aesthetic Meteorites in Arizona offers them for sale, along with Meteorite Jewelry, watches, and something called "Custom Gibeon Meteorite Rings" for only $990.

Most meteorites are made of stone. They are either "falls" (discovered after being seen to fall) or "finds" (collected many years after the fact). There are over a thousand "falls," and more than 36,000 "finds" in the world.

If you thought meteorites were homely, you should see some of the asteroids. One called Itokawa, discovered by the Japanese, is so disgusting I won't even tell you what it looks like. There are about a million of these stool-like things floating about between Mars and Jupiter, with romantic names like Greeks, Hildas, and Trojans.

We shouldn't be putting down asteroids too much though, I guess, because when several of them get together, they are known as "planetesimals," and when even more of them get together, they are called "planets."

This book, from Firefly, is short but pithy, and has over 100 photographs, charts and drawings. As I reported above, meteorites look no better than your average plucked chicken, but the sky-shots in the book are terrific. Somewhere here I should make note of the largest meteorite ever found, but I lost my place in Meteorites so you'll have to page though it yourself to find out. Google does show one, the Hoba Meteorite, at Tseumeb on the Okavango River in Namibia, with 53 tons. But the Russians are claiming a 450 tonner just north of Vladivostok.

The one shown in the picture at the beginning of this review was no biggie. Worse, it fell on Kansas less than a hundred years ago. The meteorite could have made our lives easier by snuffing the whole state, but, for some reason, it held off.

--- Irving Spivak
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