Observing the clear sky can be rewarding, especially at night. Most people get to see meteorites dissolve in the Earth’s atmosphere at least several times in their life. But not many people have the chance to see a meteorite up close outside a museum. And then there are those who’ve had enough luck (or bad luck) to see their lives changed by a close encounter with a meteorite. Around 25 years ago, one of the weirdest and most fascinating close encounters with a meteorite occurred in Peekskill, New York.
Prior to 1992, only a few meteorites had been caught on film. However, on October 9th of that year, the fall of the Peekskill meteorite was accidentally filmed by at least 16 cameras. Since it was a Saturday afternoon, many high school students in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania attended local football games and recorded them, and at least 16 of them recorded the meteorite as it fell from the sky in the form of a bright and greenish fireball. As it traveled across the universe to reach Earth, it was moving at a speed of a staggering 8.8 miles per second. The Earth’s atmospheric conditions slowed it down and it passed over Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. at a mere 164 miles per hour.
Unlike most other meteorites, the Peekskill meteorite didn’t dissolve upon entering our atmosphere. Instead, it hit the car of Michelle Knapp, who was 18 years old at the time. Knapp had bought the Chevrolet Malibu for a little more than $300 a few weeks earlier: When the meteorite hit, the car was parked in her driveway and she was watching TV in her parents’ bedroom. She was startled by an extremely loud bang in her front yard and went out to investigate, thinking that a traffic accident happened in front of her house.
Instead, she encountered an unusual scene: the meteorite had burned a hole through her car, missing the gas tank by only a few inches, and ended up on the ground beneath the car. Knapp picked up the still warm, 26-pound ball-shaped space rock and couldn’t believe her eyes: her car had just been hit by a meteorite that turned out to be 4.4 billion years old and had traveled billions of miles through the universe only to end up hitting her car on a calm Saturday afternoon.
Although Knapp’s $300 Chevrolet Malibu had been destroyed, she soon realized that the meteorite impact presented a lucrative business opportunity. Namely, in the days following the incident, she sold the damaged car for $10,000 to Iris Lang, wife of the renowned meteor collector and dealer Al Lang. Furthermore, she had the meteor broken into smaller pieces and sold to three different buyers for a total of $70,000. Therefore, Michelle Knapp was not only a part of a fascinating and extremely unlikely event, but she also managed to make money out of it.
Since 1992, the wrecked car and the pieces of the meteorite have been on display in a number of museums across the world. Nowadays, the car and the largest part of the meteorite are owned by the Macovich Collection of Meteorites in New York City.
On its website, meteoritecar.com, we learn that “video of the Peekskill meteorite’s descent provided scientists with the opportunity to calculate its flight path to Earth and its orbit around the sun.”
This October, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the strange event, the meteorite-stricken Chevy Malibu has been transported to the Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, where it is displayed as a part of the exhibition named “Meteorites, Between Heaven and Earth.” Also, small individual parts of the meteorite can now be purchased at a price of $125 per gram.