March 21, 2011

Virginia Meteorite On Display At The Smithsonian

The Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History in Washington has paid $10,000 to two Lorton Virginia doctors a year after a meteorite crashed through the roof and landed in the examination room of their practice, AP is reporting.

The doctors, Marc Gallini and Frank Ciampi, were in a legal dispute with the landlord of the property since the tennis ball-sized meteorite found its way into the office in the early evening of January 18, 2010.

The meteorite landed near where Gallini had been sitting a short while earlier at the same time as people reported seeing a fireball in the sky. "I'm the most likely person to be sitting in that place where it hit," Gallini said. "It just wasn't my time, I guess."

He and Dr. Frank Ciampi say their first thought was to give the find to the Smithsonian Institution, which offered $5,000 for it. Within days, it was sent to the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) for safekeeping.

The family practitioner said he notified his property owner, Erol Mutlu, of plans to hand the object over to the Smithsonian, which holds the world's largest museum collection of meteorites. Gallini says he received Mutlu's permission.

Later in the week, though, Mutlu sent the doctors an email warning that his brother and fellow landlord Deniz Mutlu was going to the Smithsonian to retrieve the rock, Gallini explained to AP.

Gallini declined to share the email exchange with The Associated Press, but The Washington Post reported that Erol Mutlu wrote that "it's evident that ownership is tied to the landowner." The email claimed, "The US courts have ruled that a meteorite becomes part of the land where it arrives through "Ëœnatural cause' and hence the property of the landowner."

The Smithsonian was asked to retain the rock until legal ownership could be established.

The meteorite collection in the Smithsonian includes nearly 15,000 meteorites; of those, 738 were gathered shortly after they fell from the sky. The Lorton meteorite came from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, curators explained to AP.

The outer surface is blackened from burning through the atmosphere, said Tim McCoy, a mineral sciences curator at the Smithsonian. Inside are flecks of metal and thousands of tiny rocks containing "the primitive stuff left over from the birth of the solar system," he said.

That material allows scientists to look back about 4.6 billion years, McCoy concluded.

Doctors Gallini and Ciampi have donated the $10,000 check from the Smithsonian to the Doctors Without Borders charity.


On the Net: