Don Stimpson, a meteorite expert in the tiny south-central Kansas town of Haviland, has been in the national spotlight since Friday, February 15th, when a meteor streaked across the sky and exploded over Russia’s Ural Mountains with the power of an atomic bomb. Suddenly, Americans are curious and concerned about meteors, and are seeking answers from Stimpson, who operates the Kansas Meteorite Museum in Haviland.
Last Friday’s meteor exploded 18 to 20 miles above Chelyabinsk, a Russian city of one million about 930 miles east of Moscow. The resulting sonic boom damaged about 3,000 buildings, shattered countless windows and injured about 1,100 people, mostly from the shattering glass.
Russian scientists estimate the meteor weighed about 10,000 pounds, which just happens to be the same size of the meteorite discovered near Haviland, most of which Stimpson owns and cares for at his museum. Stimpson’s meteor landed about 40,000 years ago, crashing into present-day Kiowa County, Kan., and creating the Haviland Crater.
“(The meteor) spread itself across an area about six miles long and one mile wide,” he told the KSHB 41 Action News in Kansas City. “There were no humans in Kansas 40,000 years ago,” Stimpson told the Wichita Eagle, “but should another meteor that size hit a populated area like Wichita, anywhere from 10 to 20 city blocks would be damaged. There would be considerable loss of property and life.”
Being scared of meteorites is not a loony thing, said Stimpson, who has a doctorate in biophysics. Having studied the Kansas debris, he’s concerned himself. He told the Eagle: “I don’t know if anyone really listens to me, but NASA should be spending a lot more time trying to find these things before they hit the earth.”
These days, Stimpson and his wife are still finding pieces of rock from the long-ago meteor. To keep the museum in business, they sometimes sell gram-sized bits of meteorite for $2 on eBay.
Indeed, one boon to Chelyabinsk is that the trail of scattered space rocks that meteor left have a created a “gold rush,” with residents reportedly selling meteorite fragments for thousands of dollars to tourists that have descended upon the city.