The mysterious metallic object that crashed through the roof of a central New Jersey family's home earlier this year was not a meteorite after all.
While the rocklike object looks like a meteorite, scientists say it is a stainless steel alloy that does not occur in nature and is most likely "orbital debris" or plain terms, scrap iron.
It's still a mystery where the object came from.
"That's the $64,000 question, and there's probably no way to answer it," said Rutgers University geologist Jeremy Delaney. "A piece of scrap iron dropped out of the sky. The question is how did it get into the sky in the first place? That one I simply cannot answer."
Srinivasan Nageswaran, whose family discovered the silver object after it crashed through the roof and into the upstairs bathroom of his home in Freehold Township, was disappointed by the news.
"That's the nature of science," he said Friday. "If the conclusion from the test says it's not a meteorite, then it's not a meteorite. We have to move forward."
The 46-year-old information technology consultant will now finish repairing his roof. The object, slightly bigger than a golf ball and about as heavy as a can of soup, crashed into his bathroom and dented its tile floor in January.
"It's still the world's most popular metallic object that fell from the sky," Nageswaran said.
Scientists had initially determined it was a meteorite. In late April, it was brought to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City so its composition could be examined by its new variable-pressure scanning electron microscope.
The testing took a few hours. The microscope shoots electrons at the surface of the sample, which causes X-rays to be generated, Delaney said.
"From those X-rays, you can tell the composition and what elements are present in the sample," he said.
This was the first diagnostic testing of the object, which previously been available only for visual examination. Nageswaran accompanied his object, which weighs 377 grams and is about 3-inches by 2-inches (7 1/2 by 5 centimeters), for the testing.
While extraterrestrial rocks fall to the Earth with some regularity, it is rare for them to strike homes.
The Nageswarans, originally from India, moved to the United States in 1997 and since 2003 have lived in Freehold Township, a town of about 34,000 about a half hour east of Trenton.
On the night of Jan. 2, Nageswaran walked into his bathroom and spotted a hole in the ceiling and noticed small chunks of drywall and insulation littering the room.
His mother, who has been staying with the family, heard a loud boom and thought it was a post-New Year's fireworks explosion, or that some kind of old patch job in the bathroom ceiling had come loose.
Federal aviation officials visited a few hours later and ruled it wasn't a piece of an airplane.
Geologists from Rutgers, along with an independent metals expert, concluded that the rock was an iron meteorite.
Delaney, who examined it at the police station, said his initial conclusion was based on the object's shape and density.
"I was wrong, no matter what it mislead me, sneaky little devil," he said.
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