DCSIMG

The day the sky fell in above Co Londonderry

IT was described as "a lightning flash". Blue, white, green and red lights were seen in the sky and thunderous noises reverberated through the air.

Anyone watching or listening could be forgiven for thinking that something apocalyptic was afoot in Co Londonderry.

But the fireball which blazed above Limavady 40 years ago, was a meteorite, and a very important one at that - this was the 'Bovedy' meteorite, which fell on April 25, 1969 at 9.22pm.

The object was observed from several points travelling over the British Isles, terminating in Northern Ireland where one stone weighing 513gm fell through an asbestos roof in Sprucefield and broke in two.

A second rock weighing 4.95kg screamed to earth on a farm in Bovedy owned by Samuel Gilmore, giving the metorite its name.

As well as having some unique characteristics, the meteorite is one of the very few in the world which is recorded on audio.

A woman was recording bird song just as the meteorite fell, and she caught the detonations through a microphone. The booms and rumblings echo around for several seconds after the first detonation, and a dog starts to bark soon after.

While Mr Gilmore has since sadly passed away, his son Johnston was ten when the meteorite landed in a field on the family farm and can remember it well.

"I was in P6 or P7 and I was off school with the mumps," he said.

"I don't remember the night it came over, but the actual rock wasn't found until some days later.

Crater

"It landed in one of our fields and left a crater between 12 and 14 inches deep - and it was a very rocky bit of ground.

"My father had been in the yard that night and he said he saw the light but but he had a tractor or some other bit of machinery running and didn't hear exactly so didn't think it had fallen.

"But there was an old fella that lived down the road a bit and he was adamant, he kept saying 'it definitely fell, it definitely landed, I know it fell' and he spent a bit of time looking for it.

"I seem to remember that I might have found a bit of it, but you know when you are a child you don't make such a big deal of things. It was big enough from what I remember, about the size of a turnip.

"When people realised it had landed here, it did cause a bit of a stir. Lots of people came to look at it, people from Armagh Planetarium and all sorts of other experts and onlookers. People around here had never seen the like of it."

Mr Gilmore admits that a piece of the meteorite remains in the ownership of the family, but that it will not be parted with, and added: "It is a good story, a good bit of family history."

Ian G. Meighan, from the department of Geology at Queen's University and Philip S. Doughty, from the Department of Natural Sciences at the Ulster Museum said in a report for Nature Magazine in the summer of 1969: "The fireball was mostly described as blue-green in colour over Wales, and "fiery-white" in Northern Ireland, with a brightness equal to or brighter than the full moon. Everyone who saw the meteoroid also saw a very clear tail in its wake. The colour of the tail did not seem to be related to that of the meteoroid. Fragmentation was clearly seen by a number of observers.

"The path of the meteorite which passed over England, Wales and Ireland on April 25 has been plotted from numerous sightings in the three counties, and specimens which fell from the parent body have been analysed."

The experts also recorded sightings of the object as it seared through the night sky.

The meteor was first spotted above the UK in the Salisbury area. It passed over the Bristol Channel area. Over Wales it was seen as blue-green, estimated about half the size of the full moon, and a sonic boom with a double bang was heard over a wide area.

Extinguished

Over Wales the meteoroid broke into about six pieces that extinguished in a fraction of a second and over Dublin, another part broke off and continued in flight.

At Sprucefield an orange flash was seen in the sky, and an officer on watch head a loud report similar to a pistol shot - three days later a hole was found in the roof of an RUC storeroom and two rocks weighing 283g and 230g were discovered.

At Aldergrove airport it was viewed for up to ten seconds and another fragment was seen to fall off, and burn out.

It crossed over Garvagh and at Bovedy, Mr Samuel Gilmore described the meteoroid coming directly towards him and passing overhead, estimated at two and a half times the size of the full moon.

On the following Monday at about 2pm a small impact crater of 14.5 inches, was discovered in a field used as open grazing, and a stone weighing 4.95kg and measuring 9 x 8 x 4 inches recovered. The specimen was broken open by local people and some small fragments carried away.

When examined the following day no scorching of the grass or roots were found around and in the hole.

Red flash

The meteorite appeared to break up at Garvagh and Drumsurn with a red flash and at Limavady, Constable Victor Greer glimpsed a "lighting-flash" with almost simultaneous noise.

There were no sightings from the coastguard stations at Ballycastle and Castlerock, and at various surrounding places, although sound effects were heard distantly in some places.

Mr Greer remembers the day well. While he now suffers from asphasia, a speech problem, since suffering from a stroke, his wife Ruby assisted him with his interview to the Sentinel.

He had come to serve in the RUC in Limavady in 1962 and was out on patrol in a police car with a colleague.

"It came over," he said.

"We must have got out to see what it was. It went 'whoosh' and 'bang'. It was white. I never saw anything like it before.

"I don't remember too many people talking about it afterwards, it was just one of those things."

The couple went on to have another brush with the cosmos after joining other onlookers to witness a solar eclipse at Benone strand several years ago.

Mrs Greer said: "It was so eerie, the whole place went dark.

"A few minutes later it was lovely and bright again. It was another interesting experience for us both!"

After having travelled millions of miles to make an impact on the earth, the meteorite has since gone on to travel the world, albeit in smaller pieces, as it is highy prized in the competitive world of space enthusiasts.

Collector

American collector and expert Martin Horejsi is one man who owns a slice of the Bovedy meteorite.

"It was important to collectors for many reasons," he told the Sentinel.

"The Bovedy meteorite is a highly desired space rock. Not only is Bovedy a witnessed fall, but also part of it hit a house, and its fall was recorded on audiotape. Also, it was not a very large fall so there is very little of it to go around, and it is a fairly rare class of meteorite.

"The 'chondrules' in Bovedy are exceptional. Chondrules represent some of the most primitive material in the solar system development. My slice of Bovedy is one of the larger ones in the world, and a showpiece when I display meteorites. My slice is 7cm by 8cm and about 5mm thick. It weighs about 61 grams has two edges of black fusion crust.

"In 2005, I purchased the specimen of Bovedy from the famous meteorite collector Robert Haag. The price was high, but in reality, specimens such as Bovedy are essentially priceless to collectors such as myself.

"Amazing meteorites like Bovedy are rarely available at this size anywhere in the world, so when the opportunity arose to add such a wonderful piece to my personal collection, I knew I would never get a second chance."

With last week's news that massive asteroid whizzed close past Earth, it could be that more space rocks could be blazing across the skies of Ulster before too long.

 
 
 

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