Cranbrook Geologists Examine Meteorites and Meteor-wrongs

Cranbrook Geologists Examine Meteorites and Meteor-wrongs

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Jan. 20, 2018)

Bloomfield Hills, MI- David Michael Egan and his science class at Larson Middle School in Troy had a great time talking about meteors last week after one streaked across the sky Tuesday night.  They’ll be even more excited on Monday as they’ll get to hold a meteorite for themselves.

“I can’t wait to share this piece of creation concrete with them,” Egan said.  Egan and Luke Janes did not see the bright light that passed, though they did feel it shake their Huntington Woods home.

The next day they went hiking in Hamburg near Bass Lake where they found what they suspected might be a small piece of meteorite.  It wasn’t until an event Saturday at Cranbrook Institute of Science that geologists confirmed that it was in deed a piece of rock from outer space.

Josh Vojtlsek of Clawson also headed toward the Bass Lake area.  “I walked 17 miles in total, working in a grid through the area,” he said.  When asked what he was going to do with the quarter-sized piece he joked, “I don’t know, maybe cast spells.”

Both pieces looked very similar, gray aggregate with a section of smooth dark iron. They are heavier than one might expect, and magnetic.

Geologist Erica Stevenson was one of several on hand Saturday for the Michigan Meteor day, where dozens of people showed up with various rocks and chunks of metal to be examined by experts.

“The meteor was made mostly of silicate minerals, but the inner part is magnetic,” Stevenson said.  “We’re lucky this was the composition.  It exploded as it entered the atmosphere because there are pockets for gasses to get trapped in.  That’s why there are so many pieces. If this had been solid it could have caused a lot of damage.”

Khloe Travis and her father were among the few people that did not have a rock in their pocket, box or bag when they came to the Cranbrook Institute of Science on Saturday for their Michigan Meteor event.  Though dozens around them had.

Travis, a student from Southfield, just wanted to see some meteorites up close.  And she got her chance as the person in line in front of her had a very unique find.

It was not a Michigan meteor, but a piece of a meteor that hit in Argentina in 1576 that John Sams of Detroit brought to Cranbrook to be examined Saturday.

“I am a coin collector and I was in Collectable Investments in Berkley when they were having some kind of estate sale about eight years ago,” Sams said.  “I had about $600 worth of coins and this was $400, and I just couldn’t pass it up.  I trust them, but it feels good knowing for sure [that it’s real].”

Geologist Samer Hariri, who teaches geology at Schoolcraft College and Oakland Community College, was delighted to examine the five inch piece of the universe.  It came from Campo del Cielo, an area in Argentina that was documented in 1576 to have large meteorites that were used by natives to make weapons and tools.  The iron from the meteorites is more pure than iron found on earth.  Hariri directed Sams to the display of meteorites on hand at Cranbrook, where he was able to see another from the same time and place.  “Go see its twin,” he said.

The room was full of hope, optimism and stories as people from all over SE Michigan waited in line to speak with the experts.

Larry Michalik of West Bloomfield had been hopeful.  He’s collected rocks for years, with particular love of pieces of copper found in abandoned mines near Lake Superior.  His mystery rock came in a shipment of decorative landscaping stones in Texas about 20 years ago.  “I got this load of rocks and this was in there.  It’s got bumps from extreme heat and is magnet.  It’s mostly nickel.  I think it’s too pure to be from earth,” he said.  “I don’t know if it is or isn’t, but I’ll sleep better once I know.”

Nick Campbell of Warren also had a large piece of rock found on his uncle’s back patio Wednesday morning.  His Uncle posted the rock on Facebook and someone offered him $5,000 for it.  “There was no damage to the patio so it must have bounced off the ground and landed there,” Campbell said.  “He doesn’t want to sell it, even if it is real.  It’s too cool not to keep.”

Most of specimens, like Michalik’s and Campbell’s, turned out not to be celestial.  “There are meteorites, but there are mostly meteor-wrongs,” said geologist John Vitkay who was also on hand to examine the stones brought in.

While some people left disappointed, most were excited to be part of the weekend and the collective Michigan Meteor experience. Cranbrook is home to a variety of meteorites on display, which fueled the discussions and gave people examples to compare their own rocks to.

Learn more about Cranbrook Institute of Science at

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