Rock That Damaged Car Was Meteorite

Wednesday, July 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — It was no ordinary rock that broke Rick Wirth's windshield four years ago. It came from outer space. And it's older than the Earth.

Wirth got confirmation that his rock is a meteorite from a geology professor Monday.

In 35 years at the University of Minnesota, professor Paul Weiblen said he has seen thousands of rocks brought in by people who thought they had meteorites. All of them were mere Earth rocks.

But when last month he saw the rock that broke through the windshield of Wirth's Geo Metro and split in two, Weiblen figured his luck had changed.

``I feel every sample someone thinks might be a meteorite is worth looking at,'' Weiblen said. ``But when I opened this package I knew.''

With a gray interior and ash-black exterior, the halves sported telltale signs that indicated they were meteorites. Further testing of the rocks, which together weigh 3 ounces and are 2 inches long, confirmed it.

For Wirth, the findings are vindication of his hunch about what happened to his windshield as it was parked in his driveway in Clayton, Wis., on Oct. 21, 1996.

``When I took it to work and told the guys that I had a meteorite, they said, `Yeah, right,''' said Wirth, a welder. ``But I was pretty sure it was a meteorite.''

But he didn't follow up on his hunch until his son took the specimen to a rock show a few months ago. Someone who saw it said it was a meteorite, and Wirth got in touch with Weiblen.

Meteorite finds are rare. The Earth is bombarded with thousands of meteoroids each year but most burn up as they hit the atmosphere.

Scientists classify meteorites that reach the earth as ``falls'' if their descent was witnessed or — like Wirth's — can be documented through the damage they do. Only about 1,000 are known, Weiblen said. More common are the ``finds,'' meteorites that came to Earth at an unknown time.

Wirth has been in contact with a dealer and may sell the two pieces of his meteorite, which could fetch several thousand dollars.

But even if the meteorite is sold, Weiblen said the chance to study it has been priceless. Most meteorites, including Wirth's, were formed 4.56 billion years ago, giving scientists a chance to examine something older than the Earth.

``It's a little messenger that came in the quiet of the night,'' Weiblen said. ``It's telling a story of what happened around the time the sun evolved and even before the Earth was formed.''


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