Meteorites can fall at any time, anywhere. Your own back garden stands as much chance of being hit by a meteorite as any other place on the globe. Tons of meteoritic material falls to Earth each year, and most of it is never found.
Sometimes, man-made objects such as cars and houses take a direct hit – then it becomes a whole lot easier to find the meteorite! Last year, I visited a home in Chicago where a 2.5 kilogram meteorite had fallen through the roof just days earlier. It crashed through the attic, destroying a thick wooden support joist along the way, then smashed through a bedroom ceiling, breaking the window and mirrored wardrobe doors as it bounced off walls around the room.
The damage was astonishing. The 14-year-old boy, asleep in the room, escaped injury from the falling stone by less than three feet.
Near disaster was quickly turned into an unexpected windfall, as the homeowner sold pieces of the meteorite, as well as "wreckage" from the bedroom, to visiting meteorite hunters, scientists and collectors.
Most people have seen "shooting stars" racing across a clear night sky, producing a very brief, bright trail of light that's all over and finished within a blink of an eye. These shooting stars are actually dust grain sized meteors. They burn up completely which means nothing ever reaches the ground. Larger, bright meteors are usually fragments and splinters of mountainous asteroids, orbiting around the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. When two asteroids collide, pieces of asteroid material can be sent out into wild orbits, some of which may then cross the orbit of our Earth. If these fragments are big enough to avoid being burned-up, they can make it all the way to the ground: landing as a meteorite.
Next: Meteorite Myths