Monday, April 19, 2010

Meteor Madness

Last week my wife and I witnessed the spectacular demise of a space traveler. A large chunk of space rock weighing perhaps a half-ton, arrived at Earth after its long journey from the asteroid belt, the large region between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Chicago Tribune reporter William Mullen printed a scientifically accurate description of small portions of the object which are still being found: “A meteorite is a surviving fragment of a disintegrating, fiery meteor as it plunges from outer space through the earth’s atmosphere.” Millions of people were aware of a startling, sudden illumination of the sky, although few observers immediately knew what caused it.

We had been seated on our sofa watching the late evening news. Our northwest picture window shade was fortuitously in the “up” position. A brilliant flash of light appeared suddenly, seemed to dim momentarily, then brightened again, illuminating the entire window. The sky show lasted a few seconds. We assumed it was lightning. I immediately checked our weather radar to determine the proximity of the approaching storm. Radar showed no trace of rain or significant cloud cover within 200 miles. I assumed our radar indicator had malfunctioned, but no storm arrived.

The next day reports of the meteor filled the news media. The light show was seen across at least five Midwest states. Internet video and police webcam shots were common, as were my personal inquiries to friends: “Did you see the meteor?” Many answered affirmatively. One neighbor reported the light was accompanied by a booming sound--a sonic boom. The point of impact was Livingston, Wisconsin, a mere 46 miles from our home. It will likely be named the Livingston meteor. We had visited Livingston a few weeks earlier to make our periodic visit to its famous popcorn outlet.

As I write, abundant news releases have appeared describing the “feeding frenzy for sharks,”--the intense search activity by people focused on science, fame, or a monetary payoff. Only a dozen meteorites have ever been found in the state of Wisconsin. A Field Museum planetary geologist, Paul Sipiera, president of the Planetary Studies Foundation (PSF) and adjunct curator of the Chicago Field Museum’s new Pritzger Center for Meteoritics and Polar Studies, has been quoted widely concerning the meteorite fall and has been coordinating the search for fragments. He is a neighbor in my hometown of Galena, Illinois. The PSF has donated an invaluable collection of meteorites to the Field Museum, which now boasts the largest collection of meteorites held outside a government agency.

What is the connection of this phenomenon to our blog’s focus on science and faith? As an individual, I marvel at the opportunity to observe spectacular displays of God’s created world, whether it be a wondrous meteor, volcano, earthquake, or aurora. I also revel in mighty blizzards and to a lesser extent in the great impact of floods, hurricanes, and tornados which are a part of Earth’s natural cycle. I have personally experienced all of these events. Other more benign events such as brilliant sunsets, unusual cloud formations, gentle rains, renewal of the landscape in spring, and the uniqueness of animal behaviors are also a source of spiritual celebration and revival. Recall the famous passage in I Kings 19:12 where God came to a discouraged Elijah on Mount Horeb. The Lord demonstrated a strong wind, an earthquake, and a fire. But in that setting, God also manifested his presence with a “still, small voice.” (KJV) We may say the Creator manifests Himself in multidimensional ways.