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Scientists Believe the Mysterious Flash of Green Light Seen Over Western
Skies Early this Month Was a Meteorite Breaking Apart -- Twice
cThe Associated Press
AP Science Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Scientists believe the mysterious flash of green light seen over Western skies early this month was a meteorite breaking apart -- twice.
The chunk of space rock burned through the atmosphere to create a glow seen over Texas and New Mexico, then orbited Earth for more than 1 1/2 hours before streaking to a blazing doom northeast of Los Angeles, say John Wasson, a University of California-Los Angeles meteorite specialist, and Mark Boslough, a physicist from Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque.
``It's two events, the same object,'' Wasson said. Scientists have never seen a meteorite entering the atmosphere, going into orbit and then re-entering the atmosphere and would like to get their hands on it, the researchers said.
UCLA is offering a $5,000 reward for the first chunk weighing at least 4 ounces, with smaller rewards for smaller samples. The fragments would look like small black stones, Wasson said.
Based on messages from lay observers, Wasson and Boslough have come up with the following scenario for the meteorite's plunge:
The object first entered Earth's atmosphere at about 8 p.m. MDT on Oct. 3 east of Las Cruces, N.M. It was heading east-northeast and slowed down as it descended at a shallow angle toward the Texas Panhandle.
It came the closest to Earth's surface near Artesia, N.M., where it began breaking apart, spawning a shower of meteors that created a brilliant sky show extending at least as far as Lubbock, Texas.
The biggest fragment then hurtled back into space. Eventually it slowed to 18,450 mph -- too slow to escape Earth's gravitational field. The chunk briefly became a small ``moon,'' making a single, 100-minute orbit of the Earth.
It re-entered the atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean and passed over the California coast near Point Conception. The mass, glowing with heat from the re-entry, continued its journey just north of Bakersfield.
The largest mass stopped glowing northeast of Kernville in the Sierra Nevada, where sonic booms were widely heard, Wasson said.
Wasson said the meteorite was similar to the so-called ``Peekskill fireball'' captured on videotape on Oct. 9, 1992, before it crashed into a parked car in Peekskill, N.Y. Another fireball observed on Aug. 10, 1972, above North America was filmed by a tourist in Grand Teton National Park. It was placed into a new orbit that scientists believe will bring it near to the Earth again next August, the scientists said.
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Wasson says recovered meteorite samples can be sent to him at the Institute of Geophysics at UCLA, Los Angeles, Calif. 90025.