Friday, October 19, 2012
Once used as a doorstop, ‘rock’ turns out to be 33-pound, 4 1/2-billion-year-old meteorite
For many years, long before its true nature was known, it served as a doorstop and flower bed ornament. It was even painted green for a time.
Now at Eastern Kentucky University, it will be an object of scientific wonder for students of all ages for generations to come.
Donna and George Lewis realized the meteorite was no ordinary rock when George's metal detector picked up a strong signal form it. (Photo from EKU)
“It” is a 33-pound meteorite discovered in a cow pasture near Tazewell, Tenn., in the 1930s by Tilmon Brooks, the late grandfather of Donna Lewis, a school secretary in Pineville, Ky. It wasn’t until Lewis’ husband, George, received a strong signal from his metal detector that the Lewises realized maybe this was no ordinary rock.
When the Lewises brought the meteorite to EKU in July, Dr. Jerry Cook, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, was certain he was looking at an historic showpiece. Tests at the University of Tennessee confirmed the object’s origins: It was probably part of a known meteorite strike that had first turned up evidence in Tazewell in 1853. Its actual age might be more than 4 ½ billion years.
“We’re extremely lucky to find something like this,” Cook said,” and to find one locally is a real plus for us.”
Cook said the meteorite, which the university purchased from the Lewises, will be used for educational and outreach purposes, a fact that pleases the former owners most of all.
“We don’t want to lock it up somewhere,” Cook said. “We want kids to be able to touch it, lift it, and understand what it is. Part of our job is to get kids interested in science, and this … will stir their curiosity.”
The first opportunity to showcase the meteorite is at the Kentucky Academy of Science annual conference on the EKU campus this weekend.
“I saw how excited kids at our school got when they saw it,” said Lewis, who works for Pineville Independent Schools. “It’s good to know that Eastern will keep it in one piece and students will be able to study it.”
Cook believes the meteorite to be the second largest (known) meteorite from the Tazewell strike. The first, he said, weighed approximately 100 pounds.
“That’s what makes this so interesting,” he said.
Cook does not believe the Tazewell meteorite is related to the large meteor strike that carved a 4-mile-wide crater where nearby Middlesboro, Ky., now sits.
A Knott County native whose love for learning first flourished in a one-room schoolhouse, Cook received the 2008 Acorn Award, the highest honor for teaching excellence presented by the Kentucky Advocates for Higher Education.