OCEAN CITY – A mysterious, glowing hot object fell from the sky and landed on the beach in Ocean City last week, but it remains uncertain this week just what it is and from where it came.
Early last Tuesday morning, an Ocean City cab driver was walking down the Boardwalk in the area of 22nd Street when he saw a bright glowing object fall from the sky from north to south and land on the beach roughly 20 yards away from him. Classic Cab Company driver Derrick Miller typically drops his taxi back off at company headquarters on 26th Street after his shift and walks down the Boardwalk to his home in the downtown area.
Over the years, he has established a relationship with a resident wild fox that inhabits the area around 22nd Street in front of the Grand Hotel and often brings food to the animal. Early last Tuesday morning, Miller was following his normal routine when he saw a bright light flash across the sky from the north with the glowing object landing on the beach about 20 yards away.
“I was doing my usual thing and I was on the beach right in front of the Grand when I saw what looked at first like a shooting star,” he said. “It crashed into the sand about 20 yards away from me. When I checked it out, it had made a hole in the sand about a foot and a half wide and about six inches deep. Whatever it was, it was glowing red hot with sparks and fire coming from some of the holes in it.”
Miller said he examined the object closely, but could not handle it because of the heat. Instead, he buried it in the sand and marked the location with a stick. He returned about five or six hours later and recovered the object, which was still warm to the touch, but cool enough to pick up and handle.
The unknown oblong object is about an inch-and-a-half long on its longest side and an inch or so wide. Its shape is irregular and appears to contain different types of material. It is covered with small holes around the outside that appear to be fissures of some sort. Weighed this week at the Classic Cab warehouse, it came it at exactly 20 grams.
It is uncertain just what the object is and where it came from, but it fell from the sky during one of the most celebrated astronomical events in the northern hemisphere this year, lending credence to the working theory that is possibly a meteorite or other kind of space debris. According to NASA officials, the Geminid meteor shower arched its way across the northern hemisphere sky from Dec. 6-18, providing one of the most visible astronomical events of the year.
According to NASA, the Geminid meteor shower reached its peak on Dec. 13-14, which puts last week’s discovery on the beach in Ocean City right in the window of the most activity in the area. While he could not be reached for comment or possible identification of the object, Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office confirmed the Geminid meteor shower provided fireworks over the mid-Atlantic area last week.
“It’s the Geminid meteor shower and it should have peaked on Dec. 13th and 14th under ideal viewing conditions,” he said. “The Geminids are strong and getting stronger each year.”
Miller said in the days before and after his discovery of the object on the beach, he noticed an increase in the number of shooting stars observed in the area, particularly on the beach at night or in darker areas such as Ocean Pines while he was driving his cab. He also said many of his fares had pointed out the phenomenon.
According to NASA, Geminids are pieces of debris from a strange object known as 3200 Phaeton. Long thought to be an asteroid, Phaeton is now classified as an extinct comet. According to NASA, “it is basically the rocky skeleton of a comet that lost its ice after too many close encounters with the sun,” and “Earth runs into a stream of debris from 3200 Phaeton every year in mid-December, causing meteors to fly from the constellation Gemini.”
Of course, it remains uncertain just what the object Miller discovered on the beach last week is, but the presence of the Geminid meteor shower during the time it was found suggests it could be an object from outer space, possibly a meteorite.
A meteorite is defined by NASA as a natural object originating in outer space that survives a trip through the Earth’s atmosphere and lands on the ground. Most meteorites come from small astronomical objects called meteoroids, but they are sometimes produced by impacts of asteroids. According to NASA, meteorites that are recovered after being observed as they transited through the atmosphere or impacted the Earth are called “falls.” All other meteorites are known as “finds.”
According to NASA, most meteoroids disintegrate when entering the Earth’s atmosphere. However, an estimated 500 meteorites ranging in size from marbles to basketballs or larger do reach the surface each year. Few meteorites are large enough to create impact craters. Instead, they typically arrive at the surface at their terminal velocity and, at most, create a small pit, according to NASA.