A meteorite crashed into a doctor’s office in Lorton, Va., a couple of weeks ago. And what’s surprising about it isn’t the incredibly rare occurrence of a meteorite hitting a building. What’s surprising is that it took more than a week for people to start fighting over it.
The 4 billion-year-old space rock smashed right into Examining Room No. 2 of a family practice, which was fortunate. If it had landed in the waiting room, it wouldn’t have been seen for at least 45 minutes.
The story’s legs grew slowly. A local paper was on it, then The Washington Post. And then everybody. NPR’s rock-solid “Science Friday” was on the case this past week. (Who knew that the U.S. spends $4 million annually tracking “near earth objects,” and that it’s not nearly enough, according to experts? We spend more than that on pocket money for Afghan warlords. But that’s another entry.)
The upshot of a meteorite actually crashing into a building, below the beltway, if you will, in a suburb of a Washington, D.C., with plenty of witnesses to its descent as a ball of fire, means that this meteorite has become, in our earthly terms, a star.
And like other such objects — the Barry Bonds’ home run balls come to mind — this one has an ownership controversy. The doctors whose office the meteorite crashed into donated it to the Smithsonian and pledged to give the money the museum paid for it, $5,000, to earthquake victims in Haiti.
Since, however, the building’s landlords have stepped in, and are claiming ownership, and have demanded that the rock be returned to them from the Smithsonian, which isn’t budging.
Word is these landlords want to sit it on the front porch and hide the spare key under it, but nobody is confirming anything.
This from The Washington Post:
“The Lorton meteorite is worth $50,000, easy,” said Robert A. Haag, a colorful Arizona dealer in space stuff for 32 years. “A meteorite goes through a roof, or hits a car, something like that, about once a year, somewhere in the world. This one landed in a doctors’ office, while they were there. People saw the fireball in the sky. It was right outside of Washington. The stone itself is pretty common but all the circumstances make it a real collectible.” The entire Lorton meteorite weighs about a half-pound, but it fragmented into three main pieces and four or five bits the size of a dime. The largest piece is a 2-by-3-inch chunk.
Certainly, this meteorite stands to boost the visibility of Lorton, Va. How can they not change the name of their sports teams to meteorites? As I type this, journalists are investigating to see whether Lorton is currently, or has at any time, entered a contract with the devil.
About my only experience with such things falling from the sky is standing under a walnut tree after they’d grown ripe. It’s harrowing. I can only imagine what it was like in that doctor’s office.
To be fair, the Smithsonian does have more than 14,000 meteorites in its collection, by some estimates roughly half that exist on earth. But this is a really nice one, museum officials say, and would really tie the (space junk) room together, would it not?
So I don’t suppose I care who winds up with the rock. I’ll just go with the standard, “I’m glad nobody was hurt.” If only because the insurance would be such a mess. Can you imagine that claim? “Let me ask you, sir, was this meteorite in network or out?”