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Our History: Tales of Falling Stars

People for miles around here...were alarmed by the shock from the fall of a large meteor which struck the ground with enough force to be felt with a radius of fifteen miles.

By Lisa Cooper

Last February more than 1,000 people were injured due to a falling star explosion above Chelyabinsk, Russia. The explosion created a sonic boom and damaged hundreds of buildings. Scientists have estimated the object was 50 feet in diameter, and said it was the largest such blast in over a century.

While I have seen a shooting star from time to time, I've never witnessed anything like that.

I can only imagine....

A falling star or a shooting star simply refers to the visible path a meteoroid -- a small particle from a comet or asteroid -- creates as it enters the Earth's atmosphere.

Once the meteoroid enters the Earth's atmosphere it generally burns up, but if it lands on the Earth's surface we refer to it as a meteorite. Objects several meters wide generally explode in the air and can cause severe damage.

Most explosions are heard several seconds after they occur. Sometimes people also report hearing crackling, swishing and hissing sounds.

Sightings of falling stars go back to ancient times, and  even now there are of meteors all along the east coast of the United States.

With today's technology and "instant" news fueled by social media, we know about falling stars almost immediately. However, for all of our knowledge we only recently were able to track a meteor from space through the Earth's atmosphere. The first tracking occurred in October, 2008 -- almost one hundred years to the day that Douglas County citizens along with hundreds of folks across northwestern Georgia heard a meteorite explode.

I first came across a mention of a meteorite in relation to Douglas County while researching something else. Similar to the scientists of today I had to "track" the meteorite, but instead of searching through space, I had to search through a large volume of newspapers.

Because my access to the Douglas County papers that were published here during the late 1800s and early 1900s is limited, I often count on the Library of Congress and their huge library of newspapers from all across the country to provide me with history trails to follow.

I ran across this "dispatch from Douglasville, Georgia" that was published in the Keowee Courier from Pickens Courthouse, South Carolina on October 21, 1908 -- though the actual event occurred on Friday, October 9, 1908.

It said...

A dispatch from Douglasville, Ga. -- People for miles around here...were alarmed by the shock from the fall of a large meteor which struck the ground with enough force to be felt with a radius of fifteen miles. The crash came about 4:30, and within a few minutes afterward telephone messages were received from several places twelve and fifteen miles away asking what was the cause of it.

The dispatch went on to say that before it was determined to be a meteor other possible explanations were given as a large boiler somewhere in town might have erupted, but then citizens began to come forward to express they had seen large streaks of light across the heavens at the same time of the explosion and [there was talk] that it was a large meteor struck the ground.

The talk in Douglasville was correct because on the 10th of October the Atlanta Constitution printed a dispatch from Adairsville confirming the noise and confusion in the surrounding area for miles around. The dispatch from Adairsville confirmed the date and gave the time of the "explosion" around 4:45 in the afternoon.

The Adairsville dispatch stated...the houses shook and the windows rattled, but no flash of light accompanied it. Different themes are advanced as to its cause. The most plausible being a meteor bursting in the upper air. It was rainy and cloudy all day.

Ah, it was rainy and cloudy all day. That would certainly explain why so many folks heard the meteor across northwestern Georgia, but didn't report seeing it.

The Atlanta Constitution finally cleared up any doubt on October 11, 1908 when they printed a dispatch from Kingston, Georgia.

Kingston is located in Bartow County -- 11 miles from Cartersville and 12 miles from Rome, Georgia. The small town was a focal point during the Civil War and is remembered as the place where the General was delayed for over an hour which helped to thwart the Great Locomotive Chase in April, 1862.

Also, in May, 1864 some three to four thousand Confederate regulars surrendered at Kingston -- the last significant Confederate regulars to surrender east of the Mississippi.

The dispatch from Kingston stated...

Friday afternoon between four and five o'clock a terrific explosion was heard near here, but no one seems to be able to locate the noise. Some thought it was at Rome; that a magazine or boiler had [busted]. A telephone message was sent to Rockmart, thinking possibly the explosion occurred there.

Today it was learned the noise was produced by the bursting of a meteor.

It is thought that the meteor came to earth somewhere on the Best place, three miles from here as a [person] on the place says he saw the smoke from it, but the noise of the explosion was heard simultaneously in Calhoun, Cartersville, Dalton, Pine Log, Cartersville, and the surrounding county.

A man named Lee was hunting near Saltpeter cave, and when the concussion came gravel fell all around like hail.

J.W. Odom of Cement [a community about a mile and a half north of Kingston] and a [man] named Henry Pritchett say that they saw it burst in the heavens; that it sped through space like an immense red ball of fire in the southwest sky. They saw it break into ten thousand fragments accompanied by a noise that startled everyone.

Apparently, some of those "ten thousand fragments" were quite large. The Douglasville dispatch from October 21st indicated....the meteor struck the ground three miles south of Kingston and buried deep in the earth leaving a hole as large as a dwelling house. Hundreds of people visited the scene Sunday.

I was a little disappointed that the location for the meteor touchdown wasn't Douglasville. I was in high hopes but, there are some thoughts to take away from this, I guess.

Strange sounds and items falling from the sky are still big news, and for all of our  advances concerning technology we still can't control something if it wants to collide with our planet bad enough.

Predicted meteor showers for 2014 are listed here.

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