What Are the Odds of Being Struck By A Shooting Star?
When it comes to stars, no one on Earth can really be struck by one; instead, it would actually destroy the Earth. Why? The sun is our most familiar example of a star.
However, unlike stars, meteors are regular visitors to Earth. They are asteroids that enter the Earth’s atmosphere from outer space.
A Dramatic Afternoon in Sylacauga, Alabama
The afternoon of November 30, 1954, was a normal one for Ann Hodges until something strange happened. Ann made it a habit to nap whenever she got the opportunity.
Hodges cared for her elderly mother, and a morning filled with household chores had tired her out. But her short power nap was interrupted by a loud and frightening noise that shook her entire house.
An Earthquake Scare?
Hodges woke up to a house full of dust. The radio set that serenaded her to sleep had stopped working. From the clues she saw around her room, Hodges assumed an earthquake had devastated Sylacauga.
But, after checking on her mom and carefully examining the house, Hodges found a hole in the roof. Then, all of a sudden, Hodges felt a sharp pain around her abdomen. You’ll be surprised by what she discovered next.
It Wasn’t a Bomb Shell
The first thing Hodges did afterward was to call 911. While waiting for the authorities to arrive, she noticed a dark bruise on her abdomen. She then realized that was the cause of the sharp pain.
Hodges would later discover that she had been struck by a meteorite that fell through her roof, and she was lucky she survived. The rock had bounced off her radio and landed on her stomach.
What Are Meteorites?
Meteorites are asteroids. The only variation in their names is the location of the rock. Asteroids are rock formations floating around in outer space. Some are as large as the State of Florida, while some asteroids are just small debris and dust.
An asteroid becomes a meteorite when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere; they then burn up and become smaller.
Meteorites Are Not As Common As Lightening Or Hail
There have been several recorded cases of humans being struck by lightning or a hurricane. However, being struck by a rock from outer space is quite a rare occurrence.
So, the 1954 asteroid that struck Ann Hodges would be the first documented case of such an event. It was discovered that the meteorite split in two before hitting the ground.
Mrs. Hodges Was Thankful to Walk Away from The Near-Fatal Accident
On that afternoon in 1954, random eyewitnesses around Alabama reported seeing the meteor as it fell to Earth. Some described it as a “bright reddish light,” while others thought it looked like a fireball.
The Air Force also noticed the phenomenon and decided to investigate. At the very least, they needed to be sure it was not a missile or a UFO. Scientists later pegged the impact speed of the Sylacauga meteorite as 201 kilometers per hour. So, Ann Hodge was truly lucky to have survived.
Ann Hodges Became an Overnight Celebrity
The emergency responders arrived on the property shortly after the meteor crashed into the Hodges home. There was also a small crowd gathered around the house. Before long, the news of Hodges and the meteor spread like wildfire.
Recovered meteorites are often named after the impact site. However, since this one struck a human, it was automatically called the Hodges Meteorite.
The Hodges Meteorite was Seized by the Air Force
For an emergency issue, you’ll expect to see only the police and fire service as first responders. But, that evening, Eugene Hudges, Ann’s spouse, also met the Air Force when he returned from work.
The Arms race was fierce in 1954. Since the object in question fell from the sky, they needed to be sure it didn’t pose a threat to national security. So, men from the Maxwell Air Force Base removed the rock from the Hodges’s home and took it in for examination.
A Legal Tussle Over the Hodges Meteorite
After the Air Force ascertained that the falling object was just a meteor, they returned it to Hodges.
However, there was still a rift about who got to keep the meteor. Unfortunately for Mrs. Hodges, their home was a rented property. So, the landlady, Birdie Guy, insisted the meteor should come to her. Mrs. Guy’s argument? The meteor impacted her property, so it belonged to her.
Court Battles Over Meteor Claims
Ann Hodges was ready to go to court with a claim of ownership. However, with the help of her lawyers, they were able to settle out of court.
Mrs. Guy received $500 to forfeit custody of the meteor to the Hodges. But even when the rock returned to the Hodges, the best they could come up with was to use it as a door-stopper. So, they eventually agreed to donate the meteor to the Alabama Museum of Natural History.
Meteor Showers are As Common As Snowfall, But…
According to Cari Corrigan, a research geologist, meteorites fall to Earth all the time. In fact, it has been speculated that major events on Earth were influenced by meteor impacts.
For example, the ice age and extinction of dinosaurs are believed by some to have been caused by the impact of large meteors on Earth. However, there’s something that sets the Hodges event of 1954 apart. It was the first time a meteor was documented to have impacted a human.
How Do Meteorites Change?
As was mentioned earlier, meteors burn when they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Consequently, most of the meteorites that have been recovered are small in size. The meteors often range from the size of an egg to a fist.
Experts have, however, revealed that well over half of the meteorites reaching Earth fall into the ocean. Some even turn to dust before making an impact.
The Hodges Meteorite Had a Twin
The meteorite split into two some minutes before hitting the Hodges house. Someone else found the other piece a couple of miles away.
Kempis Mckinney was a Sylacauga farmer going about his day. He was working on the farm when he noticed a black rock in his path. But McKinney ignored it and continued his work. Then, later in the day, he heard the news of the Hodges meteorite and immediately rushed back to his farm.
Cashing Out Big On Meteorites
McKinney retrieved the meteorite on his farm and contacted a lawyer. He was a man looking to make some bucks from this rare find.
It was later reported that Mckinney successfully sold his piece of the meteorite. According to reports, he made enough money from the sale to buy a good car and a house. Eventually, this piece was also donated to the National Museum of Natural History.
More Expensive than Gold
Since 1954, up until recent years, fragments of these meteorites have been auctioned at extremely high prices. Interestingly, these meteorite pieces are valued higher than gold, weight-per-weight.
For example, a gram of 24K gold sold for $39.05 in 2017. That same year, a gram of the meteorite found by McKinney was sold for $728.
Hodges Meteorite: A Blessing or a Curse?
Ann Hodges indeed became a mini-celebrity after the meteorite crashed into her home. She was featured on the cover of a December 1954 issue of Life Magazine. She also appeared in the “I’ve Got a Secret” game show. The Hodges’ mailbox overflowed with mail from people across the United States.
However, the string of events and excitement degenerated Ann’s health. The relationship between the Hodges also broke down, and the couple divorced in 1964.
Other Fatal and Near-Death Encounters with a Meteorite
No other human has been so far documented as being struck by a meteorite. Ann Hodges might as well go down in history as the only person to have had such an experience.
However, in 1972 Venezuela, a cow was killed by a falling meteorite. Also, in 2013, a falling meteorite was reported to have caused a sonic boom that broke windows in Russia. In 2016, a bus driver in India was reported to have suffered fatal injuries from a nearby impact of a meteorite.
Why the Study of Meteorites Is Important
Mary Prondzinski is the collections manager at the Alabama Museum of Natural History. She believes the Hodges meteorite and its other fragment are chondrites. According to Prondzinski, chondrites are stellar rocks compoprimarilystly of nickel and iron.
Studies by researchers at the National Museum peg the age of the Hodges meteorite as 4.5 billion years. These rocks can tell us the history of our solar system.
Unraveling Some Inter-Galactic History
Corrigan states that since meteorites have never melted, they can give us insights into the initial state of our heavenly bodies.
Meteorites are largely similar to materials found on Earth. However, geologists and astronomers state that they are from the asteroid belt. The region between Mars and Jupiter is littered with these rock fragments.
Meteors Can Be Symbolic and are Pre-Historic
It wasn’t until recently that the human race started venturing into space. Still, we have been amassing information about the stellar world for a long time.
For example, archaeologists have unearthed evidence of primitive civilizations that made symbolic use of meteorites. In addition, some excavated flint heads, necklaces, and grindstones were found to be made from meteorites. This indicates that humans have long identified the importance of these rocks.
So, while the odds of being struck by a falling meteor are low, the incredible story of Ann Hodges proves that anything is possible.