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Mbale: The First Digital Meteorite

For a brief period in August 1992, a meteorite fall captured the attention of those few on the planet who were enamored by such things. The shower of stones arrived at 3:40 in the afternoon creating quite a disturbance. One hundred fifty kilos of anything falling from the sky and landing on a town would raise serious questions, but when its rocks from space, many answers quickly turned towards the Devine.

Many stories surrounding the Mbale fall in Uganda with the most famous being that where some of the stones were ground up and consumed as a cure for AIDS. But alas, as important and well documented the Mbale fall was, it simply could not compete with another textbook witnessed fall that occurred two months later, Peekskill, New York.

Peekskill had all the trimmings of a world-class meteorite event including rock star status in its many videos appearances even though those videos could not easily be stuffed through our 14.4 or 56k modems. At least not with any style or finesse. So Mbale quickly drifted into the past becoming more aligned with hundreds of other past witnessed falls than a recent well-documented meteorite event.

Most meteorite collectors began their accretion of space stones long after 1992. But for those of us around at the time, Mbale was a big deal. It was also one of the first meteorites to have a modern representation on the internet. Since meteorite aficionados cut their collecting teeth on an internet-connected world they likely fail to fully appreciate the famous Dutch Meteor Society’s webpage (http://dmsweb.home.xs4all.nl/meteorites/mbale/mbale.html) about the fall. I assume most collectors at the time were like me and immediately hit ‘print’ upon first discovering the page. The site was printed on paper for no particular good reason except it was so amazing that the time, that it was worthy of printing and filing as just the thing to do.

Mbale celebrated its 20-year anniversary last year. It was a bittersweet moment for me. The fire hose of meteorite information saturating the internet is overwhelming. Yes, I too am doing my share of pumping bytes through the hose flooding monitors and inboxes around the world, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that a large majority of meteorite collectors never set a finger upon their first rock from space without doing their digital homework. And for me the Mbale shower marks the exact point in time when meteorite collecting became digital. Perhaps it was Devine intervention after all.

Until next time…

About the Author

Dr. Martin Horejsi is a Professor of Instructional Technology and Science Education at The University of Montana. A long-time meteorite collector and writer, before publishing his column The Accretion Desk in The Meteorite Times, he contributed often and wrote the column From The Strewnfields in Meteorite Magazine. Horejsi is currently a monthly columnist in The Science Teacher, a journal by the National Science Teachers Association.Horejsi specializes in the collection and study of historic witnessed fall meteorites with the older, smaller, and rarer the better. Although his meteorite collection once numbered over a thousand pieces with near that many different locations, several large trades and sales have streamlined the collection to about 250 locations with all but 10 being important witnessed falls.Many of the significant specimens in Horejsi's collection are historic witnessed falls that once occupied prominence in the meteorite collections of Robert A. Haag, James Schwade, and Michael Farmer. Other important specimens were acquired through institutional trades including those from The Smithsonian Institution, Arizona State University, and other universities.