Meteorite scientist Dick Pugh says Chicken Little may have had a point: The sky really is falling. Well, part of it, anyway.
At a recent talk here he urged people to look to their rooftops for pieces of the fireball that came thundering down on northeast Oregon at 5:31 a.m. on Feb. 19.
Pugh, with Portland State University's Cascadia Meteorite Laboratory, says he thinks it hit between Tollgate and Elgin but that its fragments could be widely spread.
He said the fragments could have easily punched holes in roofs and could have been as large as a basketball or as small as a BB.
They will have a fusion coating, ranging from brownish black to greenish black. The small fragments "will look like black olives," he said.
The meteor - it becomes a meteorite if it strikes the ground - entered the atmosphere weighing one or two tons, moving south and dropping at a 62-degree angle, based on reports of more than 70 who saw or heard it, Pugh said.
Some recorded images of its five-second appearance.
Images also were caught by two cameras in Canada's meteorite surveillance system and by others in Portland and Boise, Idaho.
Its greatest performance was over Helix, north of Pendleton, where its light was blinding and its sonic booms deafening, he said.
"It blew people out of bed in Helix," Pugh said.
It generated three sonic booms, one reason why Pugh and other scientists say they don't think it burned up completely while entering the Earth's atmosphere.
Pugh said that means it likely was a stony meteorite, by far the most common kind. Iron meteorites do not break up in the earth's atmosphere.
He said some people reported smelling sulfur. A Meacham resident reported a metallic taste in the mouth after the meteorite flew by.
He said two professional dealers have been scouring the Elgin-Tollgate area, flying over it looking for the black dust that would have been created by the explosion, and for holes in the snow.
The searchers also have spent hours on snowmobiles.
More casual searchers, he said, can check not only roofs but to take a golf club, attach magnets to it, move it over rocks and save the ones that stick to the club.
Anything that sticks could be a meteorite fragment.
If it is found it would be a first for Eastern Oregon. Four have been found in Western Oregon, he said, but none on the eastern side because fewer people live there.
Such searches are difficult because many meteorites resemble the area's abundant basalt rock.
Pugh will attend a meteorite conference in a few months and expects everyone to ask the same question: "Where is it?"
He isn't looking for fires, he says, because meteorites don't start them.
The interiors are frigid since they just came from space, where the temperature is 200 degrees below zero. Some meteorites found seconds after landing have frost on them, Pugh said.
"You have a better chance of getting frostbite from a meteorite than of getting burned," he said.