26 April 2009

40 Years Since the Sky Fell in Ulster, Eire 25APR09

40 years since the sky fell on Ulster
Belfast Newsletter
That was the stark conclusion drawn by Ulster folk who witnessed an extraordinary happening over the skies of Northern Ireland 40 years ago today.

On 25 April 1969 the sky literally fell in on the Province and only a select few caught a glimpse of the out-of-this-world occurance.

Meteorite was spectacular - eyewitness
While many mistook the glowing fireball as a shooting star, it was actually a meteorite from outer space which left its mark on two separate locations. Solid pieces of rock fell from the sky and made an impact at a police barracks at Sprucefield and in a field near Garvagh. A piece of stone shattered through an asbestos roof at the then RUC facility on the Ravernet Road - now the base of the Historical Enquiries Team - landing on a desk in a storeroom. The second fragment, caused a huge dent in a field in Co Londonderry. It became known as the Bovedy meteorite due to the area where it landed.

Dr Mike Simms, from the Ulster Museum, is the proud owner of a cast of the Bovedy meteorite. The main mass of the rock is currently on display at Armagh Planetarium. The geologist confirmed the meteorite, which is a rare phenomenon, passed over the Province before landing in the Atlantic. "It (the meteorite) was seen as far south as Dorset in England before passing over north Wales," he said. "There were sightings from Aldergrove airport and people could see it going over and bits breaking off. It was last seen heading north over the tip of Inishowen and probably the main chunk fell in the drink somewhere north of Donegal." Dr Simms revealed that one Ulster woman, who was recording bird songs at the time of the object passing overhead, actually captured the associated sounds. "I've spoken to a lot of people over the years who actually heard it (the meteorite) or saw it. People heard a sonic boom sound – a bit like what Concorde used to make. "People who were outside would have actually seen the fireball come down because it wasn't just like your normal shooting star – it was something as bright as a full moon."

In a report published in the Nature Magazine in July 1969, Ian G. Meighan, from the department of Geology at Queen's University and Philip S. Doughty, from the Department of Natural Sciences at the Ulster Museum, gave a detailed account of the grounded fragments. On the Sprucefield rock, it recalled: "On the concrete floor, among fragments of the roof a stone object was found broken into two pieces. Weighing 283g and 230g. The meteorite resembles a angular block with a tapered base, has a complete brownish black fusion crust, but no "thumb marking" on the surface."

In relation to Bovedy, the report read: "On the following Monday at about 2pm a small impact crater, depth 14.5 inches, was discovered in a field used as open grazing, and a stone recovered. The specimen was broken open by local people and some small fragments carried away. When examined the following day no scorching of the grass or roots around and in the hole, and angle of fall was estimated between 30 and 50 degrees from the horizontal."

Dr Simms confirmed the meteorite stemmed from an asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. He believes a collision sent it off course and it happened to cross Earth's orbit "at the wrong time". The academic, who has developed a personal interest in the outer-space objects, admitted meteorite falls remain "pretty rare events". "One could land in your garden this afternoon, it is likely to do that as it would land in the Antarctic or wherever," he said. "This particular meteorite was the last to fall and actually be recovered in Northern Ireland although it is estimated three to four of a walnut size actually land in here every year. "There is a lot of vegetation to lose them in and once they have been on the ground for a while they just look like any other stone. "It is estimated there is one meteorite per square kilometre, per ten thousand years so they are not very common," he added.

The last recorded meteorite on the island of Ireland was reported in Co Carlow in 1999. Dr Simms is marking the 40th anniversary of the Sprucefield and Bovedy meteorites by hosting a series of talks next week to celebrate the event. The expert will be sharing his experiences in Bangor, Garvagh and Lisburn. Entry to the three seminars is free of charge.
Did you witness the 1969 meteorite?
Contact the News Letter on 3839 5580 or e-mail bryan.gray@newsletter.co.uk

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