An Impact that Launched a Paradigm
Sonic booms vibrated eardrums on earth as a bright fireball lit up the 4:00 AM sky over the southern United States on February 17, 1930. A flaming airplane on its way to a rough landing seemed the likely event for many, but instead it was the largest piece of stony meteorite real estate witnessed to fall on the modern world.
Paragould, besides being a one of the best examples of a
witnessed meteorite fall, also happens to be a fairly
rare type of chondrite known as an brecciated LL5.
This somewhat unsighlty 127g fragment of Paragould first escaped the conformity of the asteroid belt; then escaped a slow death at the bottom of a mud hole in Arkansas; then escaped the financial grasp of H. H. Nininger; then in a prisoner exchange agreement, this cosmic kidnappie was released from the dusty bowels of the Chicago Field Museum only to find itself back in riker prison in another collection. Finally, the specimen had its ransom paid and left the hands of the private collector landing in my hands.
Now I keep a tight hold on this escape artist since I
doubt such a large sample of this famous stone will ever
cross paths with me again.
highly shocked S4-5 chondrite, the interior of Paragould offers an
exceptional view of brecciation. This is a very active meteorite,
and one offering a geologic photographic that forever captures the
debris spray from an impact between microworlds wandering in space.
Although over 400kg of Paragould fell, only three collections worldwide claim pieces of Paragould over one kilogram in size. The bulk of the largest mass at 337kg is in Chicago, and the bulk of the smaller mass at 33kg is at the US National Museum in Washington, DC. The American Museum of Natural History in New York holds the third largest piece at only 3.75kg.
From there, the sizes drop rapidly starting at 450g at Harvard, followed by three collections holding pieces around 60g, then the weights plumit downhill quickly from there.
Applying this information gleaned from the Catalogue of Meteorites,
regardless of its looks, the above pictured 127g piece of Paragould
now residing in my collection is the fifth largest piece of the
largest stone meteorite in US history!
Nonetheless, Nininger was not completely disillusioned. He studied the plethora of information about the fall and deduced that there was another much larger stone still out there somewhere. Using the information he gathered, Nininger drew a straight line across a map of the area indicating where he believed the best chance for the larger specimen to be found. Sure enough, a stone ten-times larger turned up three kilometers from the discovery of the first mass--right on the line!
Borrowing money to the tune of $3600, Nininger bought the stone knowing he could turn a profit by selling it thus then able to launch a new career for himself as a meteorite hunter. The Field Museum in Chicago bought the 372kg mass for almost double what Nininger paid. But suffering greatly from sellers remorse, Nininger wrote in his autobiography Find a Falling Star (page 40):
"The Paragould meteorite had profound effects on our lives. I have never ceased to regret parting with it, but I had paid a price too high, and was forced to give up either the specimen or my dream of making meteorites a new vocation. And Paragould, with the $2,000 profit it brought, was the way to my dream."
Few things add documented history to
a specimen better than a major
museum collection number. Me 2135 is
the number assigned to the main mass
of Paragould in the Chicago
Field Museum meteorite
The main mass of Paragould is listed
in the Field Museum catalog as
having the mass of 337,133.10 grams.
Personally, I have a hard time
believing that the field museum has
a scale that can accurately weigh to
the nearest hundreth of a gram
something weighing over 300kg! But I
could be wrong.
Even though Paragould fell at 4:00
in the morning, there were so many
witnesses who could provide detailed
fall information that H. E. Nelson
and W. J. Thomsen were able to
calculate the original orbit of
Paragould before it failed to yield
to an oncoming earth.
The above diagram appears in D.
Sears' book Thunderstones, and was
borrowed by Sears from a 1947 issue
of Popular Astronomy (55, 448).
In addition to Paragould, three
other meteorites who happened to
have their fall actually
photographed also have their
pre-impact orbits plotted against
the inner circle indicating the
Paragould on display at the University of Arkansas Library
Article about keeping the Paragould on display in Arkansas
A rich vein of fools gold-colored troilite in
Paragould peaks out from a broken face.
Paragould, Arkansas is truly a piece of American memorabilia. Few meteorites in the 20th century have changed the course of meteorite history and Paragould is one for several reasons. First, it was the world record holding heavyweight until the Jilin, China stone came along. And it is still the largest meteorite witnessed to fall in the United States. Finally it is the stone whose sale gave H. H. Nininger the financial freedom to chase his dream; a dream you also must share considering you have read this far.