Possible meteorite reported over western Washington

June 3, 2004

SEATTLE (AP) -- A possible meteorite may have crashed into Earth about 30 miles south of Olympia early Thursday, an astronomy professor said.

There were no immediate reports of damage. Bright flashes and sharp booms were reported in the skies over the Puget Sound area.

Bradley Hammermaster, who teaches at the University of Washington, estimated that the object was about the size of a small car. He described it as a piece of a larger meteor.

Hammermaster told KIRO Radio shortly after 3 a.m. that a team was being assembled to head for the area where the object was believed to have hit near the tiny southwestern Washington community of Chehalis.

Witnesses along a 60-mile swath of Puget Sound said the sky lit up brightly shortly before 3 a.m. Many also reported booming sounds as if from one or more explosions. At Whidbey Island, Petty Officer Andrew Davis said he and other saw the skyburst.

"It made a pretty big bang," Davis said. "We thought it could maybe be a meteorite or something."

Officials at the National Weather Service ruled out any possible weather-related causes, and duty officers at the Federal Aviation Administration and the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station told The Associated Press they knew of no civilian or military airplane problems.

Created: 6/3/2004 8:16:06 AM Updated: 6/3/2004 8:16:27 AM 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed

By Joe Strupp - Editor and Publisher

AP Meteor Crash Report Was a Hoax

Published: June 03, 2004 12:20 PM EST

NEW YORK Associated Press editors were forced to retract an earlier report that a meteorite might have hit near Olympia, Wash., this morning after discovering that a source, one Bradley Hammermaster, claiming to be an astronomy professor, had perpetrated a hoax.

"An early report that a meteor might have hit turned out to be false," said AP spokesman Jack Stokes. "It looks like a version (of the story) was killed because it talked about a meteorite hitting." He said AP was reviewing how the error occurred.

The original story, which AP released at 7:03 a.m. EST, stated that someone identified as Bradley Hammermaster, and purported to be a University of Washington astronomy instructor, had told KIRO Radio in Seattle that a piece of meteor "about the size of a small car" had hit just before 3 a.m. PST.

The radio station also quoted the man as saying "a team was being assembled to head for the area where the object was believed to have hit near the tiny southwestern Washington community of Chehalis."

This version was picked up by dozens of news sites, most of which later deleted the Hammermaster references.

The bogus report followed genuine reports of bright lights being seen along a 60-mile stretch of the Puget Sound, which National Weather Service and U.S. Coast Guard officials were investigating as either a streaking meteor or other outer space activity, AP reported.

An AP advisory sent out at about 7:23 a.m. EST stated, "The AP story Meteorite-Washington ... has been eliminated. The identity of the source of the story cannot be confirmed."

Later versions of the AP story revealed the hoax.

"An early report that a meteor might have hit near Chehalis, about 90 miles south of the city, turned out to be false, a University of Washington scientist who specializes in meteorites said," AP reported. "A man who identified himself as University of Washington astronomy professor Bradley Hammermaster told KIRO Radio a team was being assembled to head for an area where the meteor was believed to have hit, but that call appeared to be a hoax, Smith said."

The story added, "No one by the name of Hammermaster is known to the astronomy department, and the description given by the caller to the station of the object -- an automobile-sized piece of a small car from a piece of the larger Trilene meteor -- was clearly bogus."

Copyright 2004 Editor & Publisher

(Note: Parts of the report were a hoax but the bolide was REAL)


Friday, June 4, 2004

Meteor lights the sky above Snohomish

Seismologists help locate burst some had reported as UFO

It was earthquake scientists rather than astronomers who figured out exactly where in the sky a meteor exploded early yesterday, causing a brilliant flash seen from Oregon to British Columbia.

"We located the burst northeast of Snohomish," said Bill Steele, spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network at the University of Washington.

The meteor appears to have exploded about 27 miles above and 6.4 miles northeast of the city of Snohomish, Steele said.

The explosion in the sky registered on the region's many quake detectors, allowing UW seismologist Steve Malone to locate it by triangulation. Sound travels much slower in air than in rock, so Malone had to make mathematical adjustments to account for this.

The explosion in the sky registered on the region's many quake detectors, allowing UW seismologist Steve Malone to locate it by triangulation. Sound travels much slower in air than in rock, so Malone had to make mathematical adjustments to account for this.

Malone said the seismic data showed it didn't produce the kind of sound waves that might be expected.

"What was interesting to us is we saw only a point source (a single explosion) there," Malone said, rather than the sonic-boom kind of sound wave that comes as an object rapidly enters the atmosphere.

Cautioning that his expertise is with rocks on Earth rather than from space, he speculated that this indicates the meteor came in at a fairly steep angle rather than the gentler slope of attack typically associated with meteors.

Others aren't so sure about what happened.

"I don't think it was a meteor, man," said Christophe Frey, a North Seattle resident who witnessed the spectacular event at about 2:40 a.m. yesterday and reported it to the Seattle-based National UFO Reporting Center.

"With all the bad stuff going on around the world, at first I thought it was like a missile from North Korea or something," Frey said with a laugh. "I've seen lots of meteors, and this was something else."

Peter Davenport, director of the UFO reporting center, said he's received more than a dozen calls about the event -- and he thinks it was a meteor. "It just sounds like another rock from space to me," Davenport said.

University of Washington astronomer and meteor expert Toby Smith said it was likely a highly unusual, larger meteor known as a "bolide."

"These are very rare events," he said. "Large objects are just not that common. Most of the things that hit the Earth are the size of a dust grain."

Fragments of this large meteor, which was estimated to have been about 2 cubic feet in size, could have made it to the ground, Smith said.

It's hard to even know where to begin looking for such fragments, he said, given the anecdotal evidence of its path across the sky.

Frey said the object he saw was in the north, traveling from the northwest to northeast, and that its bright orange light flared out just before it would have reached the horizon and escaped his line of sight.

"It was like staring at the sun," he said. "It was brighter than anything else I've ever seen in the sky. I'm going to take it as an omen, a good omen."

Greg Hupe of Renton hopes to take it home.

"Last year, I was in Kenya for three weeks looking for meteorites," Hupe said. He and his brother Adam, retired owners of a computer business, travel around the world hunting for meteorites.

They have partners in Morocco who alert them of potential finds. Last year, they jumped on an airplane to Chicago because of reports of space rocks crashing into some homes there. Now, it seems, they may be able to hunt closer to home.

"It's the oldest material in the solar system," Hupe said. "It's what we're all made of. ... We're all stardust."

The Hupe brothers are waiting for either a confirmed find from this local space invader, or else a fairly precise estimate of its trajectory after the explosion.

"As soon as we can get that, we're there," Greg Hupe said.

Malone said further analysis of the seismic signal, along with whatever other evidence is out there (such as the meteor's velocity), might produce a trajectory for hunters such as the Hupe brothers.

"It's possible," Malone said.

P-I reporter Tom Paulson can be reached at 206-448-8318 or