Meteor fireball (stock)
© Pedro Puente Hoyos, European Pressphoto Agency)
A meteorite burns up in the atmosphere above San Miguel de Aguayo village, in Cantabria, northwest Spain.
Every day, about 100 metric tons of space debris falls onto Earth. That includes pieces of asteroids, comets or other extra-terrestrial material raining down on our planet. The larger ones, you can see as shooting stars or meteors streaking across the nighttime sky. Once they hit Earth, they're called meteorites.

Tons of falling space rocks sounds really scary, but how many people are struck and killed by meteorites each year? In the last 100 years? The answer to both questions is zero. In fact, there is only one case of a human being hit by a meteorite in the 20th and 21st centuries - and she lived! The unlucky victim was Ann Hodges of Sylacauga, Alabama. In 1954, she was lying on the couch taking a nap when a softball-sized rock broke through the roof, punched through the ceiling, bounced off her radio, and hit her on her left side. Despite minor injuries and one heck of a bruise, Hodges lived to tell the tale. The space rock, now known as the Hodges Meteorite, is owned by the Smithsonian Institution.

Murderous Meteorites in History

May 1, 1860, New Concord, Ohio: Farmers around the area heard loud noises and witnessed meteorites raining down from the sky. This was one of the most widely witnessed meteorite falls in history and people immediately crowded around the many impacting rocks. When they dug them out of the ground, they still felt warm to the touch. A rumor started that one stray rock fell and killed a colt. Whether or not it's true, the New Concord Meteorite is still known as the "Colt Killer."

On June 30, 1908, a meteor exploded above the ground in remote Siberia, Russia. The shock of the blast, called the Tunguska Event, flattened an entire forest of trees and killed a herd of reindeer. If this had happened over a major city, it would have completely destroyed it.

Residents of Trujillo, Venezuela, saw strange lights and heard sonic booms in the sky the night of Oct. 15, 1972. The next morning, they found a cow in their fields dead from a crushing blow. Three mysterious rocks lay nearby weighing, in total, nearly 110 pounds. They turned out to be meteorites, now known as Valera. Later, the villagers ate the cow.

Car killer meteorite
© The Journal News (file photo)
The Car Killer

On Oct. 9, 1992, a large meteor flashed across the sky over the eastern United States, and then broke into several glowing, green fireballs. One crashed into a Chevy Malibu in Peekskill, New York. The owner had just bought the car for $300. After the impact, she sold the 27-pound Peekskill Meteorite to scientists for $50,000 and the car to a museum for $25,000.

As people headed to work the morning of Feb. 15, 2013, in Chelyabinsk, Russia, a fireball glowing brighter than the noonday sun streaked across the sky. It was an exploding meteor. When the glare subsided, a long churning smoke cloud hung in the air. 90 seconds later, the shock wave of the explosion knocked people over, smashed out windows in the town and shook buildings.

Fortunately, meteors are almost always about the size of a grain of sand. The likelihood of a meteorite surviving its fiery plunge through the atmosphere and hitting land, your country, your city and you is incredibly small. That's what makes rocks from space some of the rarest substances on Earth.

Meteorite during Leonids
© Getty Images
NOVEMBER 19: This image taken with a meteorite tracking device developed by George Varros, shows a meteorite as it enters Earth's atmosphere during the Leonid meteor shower November 19, 2002. The device, which is deployed on board a NASA DC-8, tracks and photographs meteorites.
About The Author

Dean Regas is the Astronomer at the Cincinnati Observatory, author of 100 Things to See in the Night Sky, and co-host of the podcast Looking Up. He can be reached at dean@cincinnatiobservatory.org