Russian meteor spurs memories of Western Pennsylvania incident in 1938
CHICORA — Russia's “big bang” meteor on Friday morning caused a light burst big enough to blaze up the sky and a noise boom loud enough to shatter windows and damage buildings.
While Western Pennsylvania falls into the rest of the northeastern United States as witness to periodic meteor showers and occasional one-shot spectacular celestial events, the last one that really perked up the public was nearby in Chicora, Butler County.
About 6 p.m. June 24, 1938, a huge fireball exploded over the small borough of Chicora. At first, the commotion was thought to have been caused by an explosion in a nearby building used to store gunpowder.
Gathering outside their homes, citizens soon learned the spectacular sound-and-light show was caused by a meteor streaking across the early evening sky. Written accounts noted witnesses said it “sounded like thunder” and a sharp spike of light like a fireball exploding was enveloped in what looked like a huge cloud.
While there were no injuries reported, one cow at a Chicora farm was reputedly killed by a small stone pellet, perhaps part of a larger meteorite. Another anecdote suggests only the “cow's hide was injured.”
Later scientific studies would show that estimates based on the meteor trajectory and its trail of smoke showed the meteor weighed about 625 tons before it entered the Earth's atmosphere. It exploded about 12 miles above the Earth's surface.
Had it progressed closer to Earth before exploding, note the studies, it would have destroyed much of nearby Pittsburgh and resulted in very few survivors.
The cause of the Butler County sky display is known as “the Chicora Meteor,” named because of where it occurred. Only two meteor fragments were found initially, but two more were discovered in 1940.
The fist-size meteor fragments were split into two collections, one set going to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and the other to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.
In the Chicora Meteor event, the point of impact for the main meteor mass has never been found.
The Chicora strike was not widely reported by newspapers.
In the Oil Valley newspapers, headlines at that time reflected the turmoil in Europe and Adolf Hitler's growing influence, plus a rematch of the Fight of the Century between heavyweights Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. There was no mention of the meteor.
Chicora remains only one of eight sites in Pennsylvania that have yielded meteorites, according to the Carnegie. They have been found in 1850, 1886, 1887, 1891, 1907, 1923, 1938 and 1941.
In Western Pennsylvania, those sites include the 1938 meteor at Chicora and two others: the Pittsburgh Meteor find in 1850 and the Bradford Woods Meteor find in 1886, both in Allegheny County.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Proposed Pa. constitutional amendment clouds judges’ retirements
- Puerto Rico cop hits 2 Philly-area tourists with motorcycle
- Suburban Philly mom had sex with boy she met through daughter’s cheerleading squad, police say
- Pennsylvania wins receivership for York schools
- Philly officers help deliver baby on train
- Police say Lancaster County man killed wife with knife, ax Christmas Eve
- Bucks County woman, 93, dies hours after pickup hits house
- Poor sales sink Monopoly Millionaires’ Club lottery game
- Christmas customs fade as family dynamics evolve
- Republican legislator estimates selling state liquor system could net $1B
- Licensing boards increase fees to cover costs that include investigations