Portales Meteorites

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Portales Meteorites

Nelda Wallace was drinking coffee on her porch in Portales, New Mexico, when an unexpected visitor dropped in: a 37-pound space rock. It half buried in the dry soil about 75 feet away, and was so hot that she couldn’t pick it up.

About the same time, another Portales resident, Gale Newberry, walked into his barn, where he found a big hole in the roof and a one-pound rock embedded in the wall.

Both rocks were part of a larger space rock that exploded high in the sky 25 years ago today. Since then, residents, scientists, and meteorite hunters have found hundreds of bits of the original rock, totaling more than 150 pounds.

The excitement began about 7:30 a.m. A rancher in nearby Happy, Texas, heard a double sonic boom and several loud pops. He also saw a bright trail across the sky, which lasted only a few seconds. After the original rock exploded, fragments pelted 10 square miles of east-central New Mexico, centered on Portales.

The original rock was part of an even bigger space rock. It came from the asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Collisions with other asteroids melted bits of iron and nickel, which then flowed into cracks in the rock. Later, another collision blasted the Portales meteorite into space. Eventually, its orbit overlapped Earth’s, and it plunged into our planet’s atmosphere. The extreme pressure caused it to explode — raining shrapnel across the dry New Mexico landscape.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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