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January 20, 2010

Monday's meteor fell on Lorton, Va. doctors' office

A Washington DC television station is reporting an apparent meteorite fall in Lorton, Va. The space rock, which has been taken to the Smithsonian Institution, crashed through the roof of a doctor's office at around 5:45 p.m. on Monday, narrowly missing patients and staff.

NOTE: An earlier version of this post erroneously referred to the office as a dental office. Although there is a dental office in the building, the doctors who found the meteorite are in a family medical practice. The Weatherblog regrets the error.

Lorton meteoriteThe reported time of the fall matches closely the time that scores of people from New Jersey to southern Virginia reported they saw a bright meteor fall, leaving a writhing smoke trail in the twilight sky. The Baltimore Sun's WeatherBlog has received more than 100 reports of the fall from observers.

The story on the Web site of WUSA9 in Washington says the mango-sized meteorite crashed through the roof and acoustical tiles of the Williamsburg Square Family Practice office in Lorton. Dr. Frank Ciampi told the station the crash was so loud he thought bookshelves had toppled.

Experts at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, interviewed by the station, confirmed the fractured meteorite was a stony "chondrite" meteorite, with a dark fusion crust formed by the heat of its passage through the atmosphere.

Professional meteorite hunter Steve Arnold says he is on his way to Virginia. "I hope to find some other pieces," he said in email to the WeatherBlog. Arnold, TV's "Meteorite Man," also took part in the apparently unsuccessful hunt for fragments of the meteor that fell somewhere along the Mason-Dixon line north of Baltimore last July 6.  That fall was accompanied by a sonic boom that startled residents in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The Smithsonian museum's Linda Welzenbach said the Lorton meteorite is believed to be only the fourth confirmed meteorite fall in Virginia's history.

UPDATE: Meteorite hunters have been using readers' comments to the WeatherBlog to calculate the entry path of the meteorite. They've been scouring the comments, especially, for descriptions of the altitude and angle of the meteor's arrival last Monday evening. Not everyone included that information in their comments. There's still time. Here's a note I received Monday, Jan. 25 from Rob Matson. You can contact him directly at :

"Hi Frank,

"I've been following the posts on your blog by witnesses to the
Lorton fireball in the hopes of finding someone, *anyone*, who
viewed the fall "from the side" as opposed to roughly inline
with it (someone that wasn't NNE or SSW of Lorton). It's a
shame that not one of the witnesses from well east or well
west of the meteor made mention of the *slope* of the meteor's
path relative to the horizon. This is a critical piece of
information as far as reconstruction of the 3D track. I was
really hoping that one of the easternmost observers (e.g.
Rehoboth Beach, DE; Ocean City, MD) would have commented
about the slope since it most definitely did not fall
vertically toward the horizon from these vantage points. Even
better would have been a single picture of the smoke trail
from one of these side-viewing vantage points. Surely in
this age when everyone has a cell phone camera, someone must
have taken such an image?

"If you have any images or even sketches of the bolide's path
(or its smoke trail taken as soon after the fall as possible),
I would love to see them. Even one such image where the path
wasn't vertical would allow a crude reconstruction of the
entry angle, aiding in the recovery of additional specimens
from the fall. - Best wishes, Rob"

This request for help was answered by several readers. Matson has since sent the following:

 Hi Frank,


Thanks very much for posting my message on your blog. As a result, I've already received one image from one of your readers (Columbia, MD vantage point) which is the most useful along-track view of the smoke trail I've seen to date, as it contains both the track and the crescent Moon. Used in conjunction with the smoke trail image taken from Silver Spring (would love to know the precise location for that image, btw), I can construct a crude 3D track solution.

But I'm still holding out hope for an image from the Chesapeake or anywhere along the DelMarVa peninsula.


Thanks again,





Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:01 PM | | Comments (39)
Categories: Sky Watching


I saw something this morning at 6:05. I live in Parkton and I was walking down the driveway to my car and saw something blue streak across the sky. I was facing north-northwest and the streak was probably coming from the east-southeast heading west-northwest. At about 8 or 9 degress above the horizon it faded away.
It was pretty cool to see.

Were they required to turn over the meteor to the Smithsonian Institution? I'm asking b/c if a meteor crashed through my roof I would at least want to keep a piece of it for myself.

FR: Not required. The TV crew took it there for confirmation. The meteorite belongs to whoever owns the dental offices. And, unless the property owner decides to donate it to the museum, it could attract bids of thousands of dollars on the commercial meteorite market.

My boyfriend and I live in Annapolis, and around that time on Monday, he said he saw something fall from the sky, with a trail of smoke behind it. I am glad that this was confirmed...sounds pretty cool!

Just before 5:40 PM on Monday, my family and I were driving South on the New Jersey Turnpike when we saw what appeared to be a falling object in the sky ahead. The object seemed to be on fire with what appeared to be a green flame as it went down (very fast) towards the treeline. The flame appeared to go out just as it was nearing the horizon. I remember that the sky had just darkened, but it was a very clear evening. I'd bet this was Dr. Ciampi's meteor on its way down. I wonder if any other drivers saw it (it was very quick, probably 3 seconds or less)?

FR: Read through the scores of comments on the previous meteor post and you'll find many drivers, including several on the NJ Turnpike, who saw it.

That event must have been a breakup of a much larger meteor high in the atmosphere because I saw a meteorite too at about that time. I was going home, heading southeast on Route 24 in Harford County, Maryland when I saw towards the east-southeast a greenish meteorite falling straight down. It was slower than normal shooting stars. Its direction from my perspective would put it towards Dover, DE but I couldn’t judge its distance. I was looking on other websites and people from Breezewood PA to upper Darby to New Castle DE saw meteors.

For anyone interested, on monday, at approximately 530 pm, my girlfriend and I were traveling North bound on highway 17 in Suffolk, Va. We observed the meteorite that struct the office in Lorton! The meteorite, or flare my girlfriend thought, streaked allmost straight down. It was a bright green color and broke .into pieces and lasted for 4 or 5 seconds before dissapearing to the ground. It looked deceivingly close but it was nearly 200 miles away.

A suspected meteor crashed through the roof of a bar In Colorado Springs last week. The bar was occupied but no one could find anything. Last I heard they were going to have a meteor expert go over the place, particularly the attic area.

I saw it coming down while I was sitting in my home in Annapolis and it caught my vision through a west-facing window. It initially looked like a longer-than-normally visible shooting star. The contrail remained visible for a long time. I showed my family and we checked the news to make sure it wasn't an aircraft coming down. At first, I had expected to hear quite a "boom," but never heard one. A few moments after the event, which was visible in Annapolis about 5:40, I took a few photos of the remaining contrail in the uplit dusky sunset sky. The contrail was pink by then. The breezes quickly zig-zagged what had been a crystal clear, white line immediately following the descent.

Monday evening at approx. 5:30 p.m. I had been squirrel hunting with my son in Wake, VA and was on the way out of the woods when I observed a green streak or object falling from the sky, at first I thought it may have been an airplane, but never heard anything on the news about a crash, until 3 days later I heard on the richmond news that a meteorite hit a doctors office in Lorton, Va.

We were also driving along the NJ turnpike Monday evening and noticed the fiery object rapidly moving across the sky. Fire appeared yellow though. I wonder if viewing it through the tinted strip on your windshield might have made it appear green?

I spotted this meteor in the sky as I was walking home along 3rd St in DC at about 5:35 monday evening. I first spotted it out of the top edge of my eyes, and thought, "that is too fast for an airplane." As I looked up, the fireball streaked across the sky high above me. I was in front of the Capitol heading south. The object was heading SW on a direction toward the cresent moon. The twilight sky was very clear. The fireball left a long contrail with a large zigzag in the middle. Within a second I watched it become brighter and split into many small pieces which also had smoke trails behind them. The large remaining trail disapated within about 2 minutes. I suspect there may be many pieces out there to find, since there seemed to be a dozen or more pieces split off as the object exploded high in the sky.

My wife and I both saw it around 5:40 while we were walking our dog in Hanover County down in Virginia. It was extremely bright, we imagined the size of a softball with a long fiery tail followed by smoke. It seemed very low in the sky and the sun had probably just started to set. We both commented how unusual to see something like that during the daylight hours. It was like nothing we had ever witnessed before. Wow!

I just saw the story on 10PM Ch.5 fox news in DC. Very interesting, anyone know the speed of the object when it struck the building? thanks

FR: Folks at the Smithsonian estimate the terminal velocity of the meteorite at about 220 mph. Objects this size (this one the size of an adult fist) are much-slowed by the atmosphere before they strike the earth. They still pack a wallop, though. This one penetrated a roof, firewall,and ceiling.

My son came in Monday at dinner time...MOM! MOM! I just saw my first falling star and he explained what he saw and I said yep,sounds like you did and now I see this and he is so excited

Yes, I saw this too from Winchester, VA while looking SE. It appeared to "burst" about 4 inches (from my vantage point) above the horizon. A burst of green and white, almost like a fireworks display pointed towards Earth.

I was driving on Rt 17 North (Center Cross, VA) Monday evening and also saw the meteor. I actually stopped the car, it was so unusual. It was very different than a "falling star" whereas it came straight down opposed to an angle. The proximity was obviously disceiving, it really appeared to fall literally in trees right beside me.

My husband and I both saw this while traveling north on Rt 29 near Lynchburg, VA. Have never seen anything like it before and thought at first it was a small plane exploding. Awesome!

Saw it falling in Bethany Beach, Delaware on Monday evening. Now we know what it was!

I was driving northbound on Rt 29 through Greene County VA when I saw a bright streak that appeared to get brighter then disappear above the trees.

I have a rock that I think is part of a meteorite.Where can I send it to have it verified?I know of a location about 1/2 mile in diameter where these are.Thank you.

FR: Before you send your rock away, visit the following Smithsonian Website, read carefully and see if it meets the tests for being a meteorite. Most of the time, it won't. Here's another site that may help: And here's a gallery of real meteorite photos. See if yours matches up.

I was heading south on Rte. 222 roughly 15 miles north of Lancaster, PA when I spotted the meteor. It was so impressive called my wife to tell her about it. Surprised to learn it landed in VA!

I saw this as I was traveling north on I-81 near Staunton, VA. It came from behind me from the soutwest to northeast. As it went overhead, it broke into several pieces. It was very bright and appeared to be in flames as it broke apart. It was much brighter than a typical meteorite. Very impressive.

I was driving on HWY 29 North bound in Lynchburg, Virginia (at approximately 5:40 pm) with my 8 year old daughter, Janae. When I saw what I thought was a falling star. There was a burning flame at the beginning with a long dark tail. I was so amazed with the sight, that after it passed my viewing area; I started to second guess myself. Then, Janae said, "Dad, what was that"? I was so relieved and excited that she had also seen it. I told her, it looked like a shooting star or a metorite falling from the sky. She was just as excited as I was. We talked about it for the next 15 minutes, until we arrived at home. I called my wife for our daughter, so she could share her thrilling moment. I later called the news station, WSET - channel 13, and they had no reporting. I called the Lynchburgh 911 dispatcher, and they had no reporting. The dispatcher advised me to call the state police to make a report of such a site. They also had no reporting. - But after reading this article, and the other eyewitnesses account of what they saw, my daughter and I are truely relieved. It's an amazing moment that we will always share. Thanks, Joe and Janae Bennett.

A suspected meteor crashed through the roof of a bar "In Colorado Springs last week. The bar was occupied but no one could find anything. Last I heard they were going to have a meteor expert go over the place, particularly the attic area." Sorry, objects seen by bar patrons are usually discountable.(LOL)
I have often wondered if meteorites fall in habitable areas or actually kill people. Now we know.

FR: Read a book recently that said there have been a few reports of fatal strikes through history, but none confirmed. There was a girl in Alabama (?) in he 50s who was struck on the leg. Another meteor in upstate NY smashed somebody's car. It sold for a tidy sum.

My wife and I saw the Meteor? Monday night at around 5:30. We were just approaching the toll at the end of the turnpike before the Memorial bridge. It was east of us, low in the sky, and fiery yellow.

FR: Probably west, or southwest of you... toward the sunset.

My parents & I were also driving sb on the NJ Turnpike and saw what everyone else is describing ~ can't believe it actually was over Lorton, Va it was very visible and an awesome sight to see!!

I saw the bright green fireball at 10:40 Avon CO. Jan.19 (pm) it burned out just before it hit the earth followed by a trail of smoke. If it was a meteor why were the American ppl not warned? Why have we heard nothing about it? Strangest thing I've ever seen..

FR: Meteors fall into the Earth's atmosphere every hour of every day. Very few ever reach the surface, and the vast majority of those fall harmlessly in the ocean or in unpopulated areas. The Lorton event is a rarity.

That said, NASA and several other agencies, under a mandate from the U.S. Congress, have mounted programs to find and track space rocks - asteroids - large enough, and in orbits close enough to Earth's, to pose a serious threat. They have found more than a thousand of these "near-Earth objects" so far.

A study released Friday by the National Research Council found that too little is being done to meet the Congressional goals. The report outlined options for stepping up the effort, and developing strategies for heading off a threat if and when it arises. Here's more.

I was driving to d.c. on 95 and saw it just before it hit. I was passing lorton at the time. it flared up out of nowhere like ten thousand sparklers shooting down above the trees. it only lasted a couple of seconds. I knew what I had seen and really wanted to pull over and look around. I'm glad I saw the news before I left dc and was blown away when I googled lorton va .

I beleive I was driving south on 95 in Maryland and as I got off the exit on to 24 North I saw the metero directly in front of me. I didnt know exactly what it was at first. As for the location, If you draw a line down the center of the sky when you get off the exit the meteors path was at about a 5 degree angle in the clockwise direction. The meteor disapear really quick( 1.5 sec.s) but the smoke trail stayed for a little while. I dont know the time. It was on that Monday though.

Anthony O's report from 1/27 is in excellent agreement with the 3D track I've computed for the Lorton fall based on triangulation of cell phone camera images. Thank you, Anthony, for providing the two key pieces of information: your exact location (intersection of I-95 S & Rt. 24 N), and that the meteor flight direction was 5 degrees clockwise from vertical from your vantage point. Hopefully others will follow your lead and provide similar descriptions of the direction of motion.

I saw the meteorite about 5:30 pm on the 18th from the vantage point of Jackson Mountain Rd. in Frederick Md. It flashed into view in the Southeastern sky and fell slowly towards the east (slope maybe 5 degrees/slanted towards the crescent moon) for no more than 3 seconds and then disappeared when it was still well above the horizon. Its color was reddish yellow-- no tail was visible. I thought it was a flare (seem to remember a pop or sizzle)!

In reading the two blogs on the site, there appear to be 3 separate meteors described:
(1) seen traveling north from Richmond
at 5:30 p.m.
(2) seen traveling south as viewed from
Baltimore at 5:30 p.m.
and (3) one seen from the Richmond area at 9:30 p.m.

The two blog sites where these
first hand accounts are found:
here and at

FR: I'd argue that the "two" sightings at 5:30 (more likely 5:45 or so) were of the same object. There were several reports on the 9:30 event.

How can the two sightings from Richmond and Baltimore be the same object?
The view of the meteor from Richmond indicated that the meteor was traveling north from Richmond. The reports of the sighting from Baltimore indicate the meteor was traveling south from Baltimore.

FR: An optical illusion. The meteor was falling pretty nearly straight down. The two reports are not mutually exclusive.

Betsy W.'s description of the appearance of the Lorton meteor from her vantage point is also in excellent agreement with the 3D trajectory (right sky location, correct slope magnitude and direction).

To back up Frank's reply to Margaret Ann's post on 1/31, locations well south of Lorton would have seen the fireball "appear" to head toward the north or north-northeast. (The reality is that the meteor was heading mostly straight down, but with some NNE to SSW motion, so it was actually getting slightly closer to Richmond as it fell.)

So will the meteorologists share with us their findings, conjectures, and opinions about what everyone saw on the night of January 18? I still can't wrap my mind around the concept that what looked like it was traveling horizontal directly overhead of us just north of Richmond was actually an optical illusion of a meteor falling almost straight down. Is there some analogy that can help me understand that illusion?

FR: Hmmm. I'm not a "meteorologist," but here's how I figure it. The meteor is entering the atmosphere nearly at the zenith - 100 miles or so directly overhead in Lorton. If I'm in Baltimore - maybe 50 miles north - it looks pretty nearly straight up as it first appears, but it crosses a part of the sky and falls to my south. So I register it as moving north to south. From Richmond I, too, perceive it as nearly straight up when it appears, but it falls to my north, so I register it as moving south to north. Not sure that's the explanation, but it seems to work for me. Anyone else care to jump in?

Frank's reply at the bottom of Margaret Anne's post on Feb. 1 is spot-on. Let me give you some specifics. From Lorton's vantage point, the meteor on the evening of the 18th would have appeared as a "point meteor" very high in the NNE sky (about 75 degrees above the horizon, or 15 degrees from zenith). It would have had very little apparent motion; it simply would have appeared as a sudden bright star that got brighter and brighter (and larger and larger), far exceeding the brightness of the Moon in a matter of seconds.

From Richmond's vantage point, that same meteor would have first appeared around 30-35 degrees above the north-northeast horizon and headed nearly straight down to the horizon, whereas from Baltimore it would have first appeared high above the Moon in the southwest (about 60 degrees above the horizon) and descended to the horizon in the SSW, moving slightly right-to-left as it fell and passing to the left of the Moon and Jupiter.

On a side note, the Lorton meteor could not have appeared high in Richmond's sky -- perhaps 40 degrees above the horizon at most from northern Richmond. The reason is simple geometry: meteor's don't become visible until they've dropped below 100-km altitude. Since Lorton is more than 100-km NNE of northern Richmond, the meteor could not have appeared more than 45 degrees above the horizon. The only way it could would be if the meteor had been traveling in a south-to-north direction, but this possibility is ruled out by the image of the smoke trail taken from Stevensville, MD.

Then what was it that we saw from Richmond around 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 18?
My description does not fit with the description of the track of the Lorton meteor.

We had just left the Parham Road area of Richmond about 5:15 p.m. on Monday January 18 and had started north toward Fbg. on I-95. The sky was still bright. We were just a little north of Richmond when my husband and I both saw the astounding sight. I exclaimed, "WHAT WAS THAT?!"

If I had to conjecture what it looked like, it appeared as though it were 50 feet directly overhead, traveling an exact course as we were, north along I-95. The leading edge was rounded and it streamed a two-foot wide white track behind it, appearing as though it were painting a white sparkling light road behind itself. We never saw the end of that sparkling light road, since the end of it must have stretched well behind our vehicle. (Of course, we had no reference point to gauge height or width. It must have been much higher and wider than it seemed.) It appeared to be going many times faster than we were traveling. The entire vision was an other-worldly sparkling white intense light. The white trail continued to stretch longer and longer as it shot north of us. We watched as it shot ahead of us overhead along the line of cars. The leading edge disappeared from sight and then instantly, as though a light switch had been turned off, the whole sparkling white trail instantly disappeared.

My first instinct was to slow down. No one else on the road did, however, so I had to resume my speed. We kept looking for holes in the road or damaged cars farther north, but there was no sign of any damage. We had no idea we had seen a meteor, but we were
pretty sure there was something airborne that was burning up. We knew that it couldn't be debris from an airplane because that would have necessitated a more vertical flight path. This flight path was definitely shooting horizontal. We are very curious to know what it was we saw.

Thank goodness no one was hurt. I can't imagine sitting in the Dr. Office and having something like that crash through the roof.

Gotta love the power of the web. Helping put together everyone's accounts of what happened.

I was driving across the james river bride towarsd newport news Va. It was within 1.5 hours of noon.This is very far from other sightings so I am not sure if its the same .I saw a yellow sparking object of small size with a melting off or sparking off tail or "train" coming staight down 2 miles in the distance into the james river near the shore. . It was a very windy day and I thought it might be an old malfunctioning flare from a distressed boater. As I got near I saw no boats or anyone on shore or at the nearby marina.The area off impact was less that 400 yards from shore. I heard about the other sightings several days later. It could be related, but not possitive.

FR: You are responding to a post written in January 2010 following the Lorton meteor event.

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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