Sparking a Passion

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Sparking a Passion

Harvey Nininger was on his way home 100 years ago tonight when he saw something that changed his life: a “fireball” — a brilliant space rock burning up in the atmosphere.

Nininger taught biology at McPherson College, a small liberal-arts school in Kansas. On his walk home from work, he’d stopped to visit with a colleague when the fireball flashed overhead. It created a lot of questions for Nininger. But he found few answers — no one was studying meteors or meteorites — space rocks that fell to the ground. So Nininger started studying them on his own. That led to a career as a meteor hunter — and the birth of a new field of study: meteoritics.

Nininger calculated — wrongly, it turns out — that the meteor of November 9th, 1923, had landed in Colorado. So he set off to find it. He found two meteorites. But both had arrived on Earth much earlier.

In 1930, Nininger devoted full time to hunting and studying meteorites. He visited farms, asking people if they had any odd rocks. He paid a dollar a pound for the ones that were meteorites. He sold some of his finds to pay for his work.

Later, Nininger opened a museum near Meteor Crater in Arizona. And he got other people involved in the field. Meteoritics became a full academic subject.

His work led to a fuller understanding of meteorites, and the larger rocks from which they come. So a chance view of a brilliant meteor led to a new field of study — which continues today.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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