TOWN CREEK — Robert Earls said he’s seen a lot of rocks and stones in his 81 years, but believes a silicon-looking crystallized rock that landed in his front yard recently is a meteorite.
“You can tell it came from outer space,” said Earls, a retired engineer technician who worked at Marshall Space Flight Center for nine years. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Earls said he found the rock about 10 feet off Alabama 20 at his home on Tennessee Street in Town Creek.
He said his yard gets its share of road debris and trash tossed by passing motorists, but said the rock is different. He said he picks up debris in his front yard about three or four times a week.
On Jan. 20, he said, “I saw a paper cup in the yard and when I went to pick it up, I saw this shiny rock,” said Earls, who grew up in Huntsville. “As soon as I saw it, I knew it was different than anything else I’ve ever seen in my life. This thing didn’t fall off a truck. I’m convinced it is part of a meteor or something that came out of the sky.”
When asked what chance his finding might be road debris, Earls confidently answered “zilch.”
University of Tennessee Professor Emeritus Harry McSween has been studying meteorites for 40 years. He said the odds are against Earls' object being a meteorite.
"I get about one person a month calling me telling me they have found a meteorite," McSween said. "In 40 years, two have been meteorites, others have been meteor wrongs."
He advised Earls to contact a local college science department or Marshall Space Flight Center to have the rock examined.
According to the National Geographic Society, between 18,000 and 84,000 meteorites of all sizes hit the Earth’s surface annually. McSween said most of them fall into the oceans.
Tennessee State Geologist Ron Zurowski said Earls’ rock could remotely have been part of the meteor sighting the evening of Jan. 16 in Michigan that was seen across several Midwest states.
“It’s possible it could have split off,” said Zurowski, director of the Tennessee Geological Survey. “We get two or three telephone calls a year from people thinking they may have found a meteorite.”
He said about 10 years ago, a man found a small meteorite in the parking lot of a town southeast of Nashville. “It’s been verified as a meteorite,” Zurowski said.
The National Geographic Society reports more than 60,000 meteorites have been found on Earth. It said the rock formations are divided into three main types, stony, iron and stony-iron.
Earls’ rock compares favorably to stony-iron, which has nearly equal amounts of silicate minerals – chemicals that contain the elements silicon and oxygen – and metals (iron and nickel). It has yellow, green and sand colors, some crystallized with a crusty surface.
Meteorites striking people are nearly unheard of but there have been reports.
In November 1954, a 34-year-old Sylacauga woman, Ann Elizabeth Hodges, was struck by an 8½-pound meteorite while sleeping on her couch. She was struck on her left hip and left hand. She was treated by former Decatur physician Moody Jacobs.
Earls, an Air Force veteran, said he plans to contact NASA this week about his rock. “I have no doubt it’s a meteorite, but I’d like an expert to tell me that,” he said.
He said he doesn’t have any plans for it if it is a meteorite.
McSween said some discovered meteorites lead to riches for the lucky finders. "Some sell for $1,000 a gram," he said.
He said some worn meteorite pieces go for much less on online sites.
Earls said anyone interested in helping him identify his rock may call him at 256-685-3769.