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Possible meteorite strike in Thunder Bay still a mystery

A geologist with Lakehead University is hopeful fragments collected from a crater near Highway 61 are from a meteorite, but definitive answers are not available just yet.

THUNDER BAY — What fell from the sky last week on the city’s south side near Highway 61 still remains a mystery, but a geologist at Lakehead University said a lot of the signs do point to a possible meteorite strike.

Stephen Kissin, a geology professor at Lakehead University, has been examining small fragments recovered from the site of what could be a meteorite striking the ground on Highway 61 near Mount Forest Boulevard.

“It is a little problematic because the site was dirty and there were old pieces of asphalt in it as well, and they are all dirty, so it’s difficult to tell just by quick looks exactly what’s there,” Kissin said.

The strike occurred last Wednesday at approximately 11 p.m. during the Geminid Meteor Shower. Residents in the area contacted police after reportedly hearing a loud explosion that shook nearby houses. A small crater was found on the side of the highway by police who were investigating the incident.

Kissin said it is looking hopeful that fragments recovered are in fact from a meteorite, but it cannot be conclusively determined until the fragments are cleaned and examined using an electron microscope.

According to Kissin, meteorites are identified by the internal structure, and not the shape, as many people believe.

“There are three kinds of meteorites,” Kissin said. “Iron meteorites, stony meteorites, which this likely is, and the most common kind are chondrites, they have tiny little round structures in them called chondrules.”

Kissin compared this possible strike to an airburst that happened over Quebec in June, 1994. The St. Robert Meteorite was seen over Montreal and left behind several large fragments over a seven-kilometre area, or ellipse.

If the strike in Thunder Bay was similar, it may have left behind other larger fragments that just haven’t been found yet.

“It certainly seems there would be larger fragments, if they made it to earth,” Kissin said. “That’s another problem. So much of the earth is covered by water anyway, so if they land in water, that’s the end of the story. But it was almost certainly larger than what we saw here because of the loud detonation and the shockwaves people reported.”

Kissin said it still remains an open question regarding exactly what caused the crater and explosion last Friday based on the samples collected. But he hopes to have more definitive answers in the coming weeks as the samples undergo further testing.

He is also still interested in hearing any further eyewitness accounts of the strike. So far, only one person has come forward claiming to have seen the flash of light.

“I would be interested in hearing from anyone who did see it,” Kissin said. “It was, however, over a sparsely populated area and late at night, and a cold night as well, so perhaps people weren’t about.”