Park Forest, Illinois, Meteor

(By David E. Johnson)

On Wednesday, March 26th, 2003, I personally witnessed the Park Forest meteor that produced the fragment here:

At 11:51 PM, as I was driving home about 10 miles outside of Chicago, I was surprised and a bit shocked to see the entire sky lit up as bright as day:


This was only the beginning of what would be the most spectacular meteor I have ever seen.

The brightening of the sky took me (and I'm sure everyone else) by surprise. I wasn't sure what it was at first, as it didn't have the same "feel" to it that lightning does. When the sky continued brightening (the total time that it was brightening was about 3 seconds), I knew something unusual was going on. Here's a map showing where I was when I saw the beginning of the apparition, and where the meteor actually landed as I found out later. My location at that time is marked by a circled "X", where it landed is marked by a circled "L":

Splitting my attention between the road and what was happening in the sky, I noticed that the brightening of the sky was intensifying and that intensity was drawing my attention toward the south (I was driving in a southwestern direction). Just in time, I turned my head and looked over my shoulder. That's when I saw the meteor that had created the intense light. The night was overcast, so the light from the meteor that had been prevalent over the entire area had been filtering through the clouds as it was being emitted above them. Now, the meteor itself had come below the clouds and that's when I saw it. It was visible for about 1 second, highly inclined, and there were 3 fragments that came off of it and were to the west of it, trailing back toward the path that the meteor had just taken, on a curved path. The meteor then exploded (there was no bright flash – it pretty much just "winked out" with a small flash), and the smaller fragments disappeard from view at the same time that the main body did. The meteor was at least as bright as a Full Moon. Here's a graphical representation of what I saw. The direction of the middle of the graphic is south:

I was stunned! I was sure that the meteor had been relatively close by, and I was almost sure that it had actually landed somewhere. As I got home, I told my wife what I had seen. She had seen the flash from it as well, and had thought (like many other people in the area) that it was lightning. The next morning, she told me that she also had heard particles hitting the roof of our home shortly after the flash, which we believe were tiny pieces of the meteor that were being "burned off", a process called ablation, as it passed over. This was about 25 miles West of where it landed. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any of the particles.

The next morning, we began seeing the news reports of the fall, and found out exactly where it had impacted (Park Forest, Illinois). I also purchased a fragment of the fallen meteorite (now known as the Park Forest Meteorite) from a meteorite hunter-dealer on Ebay. That fragment is the one pictured above.

Overall, it was quite exciting to see, and even more exciting to be able to actually obtain a piece of this rock from space. While I wasn't able to find any (I did try), I was happy to be able to buy a piece at a reasonable price. The prices for these and larger pieces have been fluctuating, but they seem to be between $20.00 and $40.00 per gram. The higher price is due to the fact that it was witnessed by so many, and several pieces of the meteorite hit and damaged several buildings.

I've added what I think may be the Entry Path for the meteor.

Page Created: April 17th, 2003

Copyright 2003, David E. Johnson

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