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The Impact of a Meteor

by Darrell Hookey

    I was standing at the kitchen window when the entire area between our house and the neighbor's lit up with the glow of a hundred arc welding torches. My first thought was to ask my neighbor where he bought those killer headlights for his car. Then I saw the vapor trail of The Meteor.

    Sorry, but any discourse on the Yukon Meteor, between Yukoners that is, has to begin with our own personal story. The next person I would meet that day would be asked, "Did you see it?"

    It would not matter if it was an RCMP constable pulling me over for speeding.

    Just as any American over the age of 40 can tell you exactly where they were when they heard President Kennedy was shot, every Yukoner over the age of three will be able to tell you exactly where they were when the sky lit up on that morning of January 18, at 8:43 in the year 2000.

    A sizzling sound and two sonic booms were heard. There was a foul smell. Snow was shaken off roofs.

    No, the Americans weren't testing an anti-missle system. The heavens had just opened up and whipped a 250-metric-ton meteor across our sky at 16 kilometres per second, ionizing the very atmosphere leaving a glowing vapor trail.

    Instantly, the eyes of the world were on us. We were famous for something other than gold and beautiful scenery.

    We listened to the national radio broadcast to hear our neighbours being interviewed. We watched the nightly news to bask in our new fame. Still others scanned the American news shows to see if we were officially newsworthy.

    But much more important was the feeling we all had (have) of being special. Little noses were pressed against car windows the next morning hoping to see another whatever-that-was ... hoping to feel special again.

    Think of it: Billionaires will fly their Lear jet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun, but they would never have a chance to see a fireball as spectacular as we saw because they just can't be predicted.

    Only one every 10 years is seen over a populated area.

    Figure that the population of the world stays the same at six billion and that each meteor is seen by 20,000 people. That means only 1 in 300,000 people will see a meteor light up the sky in any given decade.

    If a baby born today lives three score and 10, the chances of that baby ever experiencing what we have is 1 in 42,857. That is a 0.00233 percent chance.

    How can we not feel smug? Just a little more special?

    How can we not feel lucky?

    Our meteor exploded with the force of two to three megatons of TNT. Another meteor exploded over the Siberian wilderness in Russia in 1908 with the force of 20 megatons of TNT. It flattened every tree within a 32-kilometre radius.

    Carcross could have been gone. Wiped out.

    But let's not dwell on that. Let's feel smug again about the fact that NASA sent up an Airborne Sciences ER-2 from the Dryden Flight Research Center to scoop up samples from the lingering debris trail wafting around at 65,000 feet.

    While it was up there, it took photographs of the land hoping to find traces of the resulting meterorite lying on the ground.

    While our hopes turned skyward towards American technology, it was our very own Jim Brook, a real northerner bouncing along in his pickup truck over the Taku Arm of Tagish Lake, who found the first samples of meteorite.

    Although discovered just eight days later, the location of the meterorite findings was kept secret until May 31. It was a suitable amount of time for us to wallow in Outside attention and indulge in rumor and speculation.

    But it was time for closure. It was time to gear up for the tourist season and rescue our lawns from winter's grasp.

    Were there any long-term effects? For the most part, "No," says Lynn Alcock, owner of New Directions Counselling Services.

    A significant event like this can swing both ways, she said. Some will enjoy the attention and others will resent having their routine changed.

    Some will be reminded of the wonders of the universe while others will feel like an insignificant speck at the mercy of a rock falling out of the sky.

    In her professional opinion, Alcock says, "Yukoners were pretty much unaffected." In fact, the 1990 burning of the SS Tutshi in Carcross and the 1991 Haeckel Hill fire had more of an effect on people.

    True, but 20 years from now, regardless of what happens in this world of ours, each of us will be a member of an extremely exclusive club who can hush up any room by declaring, "I was in the Yukon during the winter of 2000, when suddenly ...".

Meteorites in the Circumpolar North