Close encounter of the cosmic kind: Meteorite hits New Jersey home

A New Jersey family had an unexpected visitor when a space rock, suspected to be a meteorite from Halley's Comet, smashed through their roof.
Kavita Verma
Close-up image of the meteorite that crashed into the Hopewell home, showing its rough surface and natural color.

Hopewell Township, NJ 

A Hopewell, New Jersey, family had an unexpected visitor on Sunday, May 8th. A rock, which could possibly be a meteorite, smashed through the roof of their house and hit the floor. As per the reports of the Hopewell Police, the fallen object was about 10 cm (4 inches) by 15 cm (6 inches) and "clearly natural, rather than a piece of space junk." Fortunately, nobody was hurt, and the property damage was also minor.

While meteorites are rare, with only one reported case of a person getting hit by one, the Hopewell incident may be more than a random cosmic occurrence. The Hopewell Township Police Department (HTPD) stated, "This may be related to the current meteor shower called the Eta Aquarids,” and “the investigation is ongoing."

Eta Aquarids

The Eta Aquarids are among the brightest meteor showers, taking place in May and October. These are named after the constellation Aquarius and are known to originate from Halley's Comet debris. The last time this comet came into the inner solar system was 37 years ago. The pieces of rock and dust that came off the melting ice surrounding the comet continue to follow the orbit and end up in the Eta Aquarids and Orionids meteor showers.

Meteorite classification

The meteorite that struck the house in Hopewell is probably not the size of typical meteorites associated with the Eta Aquarids made from Halley’s debris. Most Eta Aquarids are small-sized, often comparable to a grain of sand, or even smaller. However, they heat up rapidly when they enter the Earth's atmosphere at high speeds and start dazzling, making them noticeable. It is not yet clear if the meteorite is linked to the Eta Aquarids or if it came from some other source.

The HTPD has contacted many agencies for assistance in thoroughly identifying the object and safeguarding the residents and the object. While the rock's arrival method means its meteorite status is not in doubt, the body it originates from is uncertain. 

Differentiating meteorites from rocks

Many people believe an unusual-looking rock is a meteor, especially if it is magnetic. However, there are several tests worth doing before assuming it is a meteorite. A meteorite's most scientifically interesting feature may be its magnetic field, so people who believe they have found a meteorite should avoid destroying it by applying powerful hand magnets.

Hopewell culture and meteorites

While Hopewell, New Jersey, may have recently witnessed a meteorite, it is not the first time the town has experienced this kind of encounter. Hopewell, Ohio, is believed to have experienced meteorite rain thousands of years ago, which might have caused the downfall of the Hopewell tradition. The Hopewell tradition was a Native American culture that flourished from 2,100 to 1,500 years ago with a network of trade routes in and around the Ohio River Valley and stretches from the Great Lakes to Florida.

Ohio's Hopewell Culture National Historical Park has earthwork mounds that inspired archaeologists to name this Native American culture. According to one theory, the Hopewell tradition's decline was the result of a catastrophic airburst that scattered meteorites throughout the valley. They blamed comets for the end of other civilizations; however, these claims remain controversial, and no concrete evidence supports this theory.

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