Meteorite Striking Jets: Some Probabilities

meteorcraterI must be a masochist, by insisting on reporting the news and talking about stuff.  Here it goes again: the many mysteries of the Flight 447 is interesting.  We all hope they manage to find the black box.  It might give some clues.  Please note the use of the words, ‘might’ and ‘probable’ and ‘possible’ in the story I tell here because these are important words in the English vocabulary.  The possibilities of causes of this crash are multiple and probable. From meteorite strike, bombs, weather like lightning, plane systems failure, pilot error: many possible causes.  

The failure of the speed-measuring instruments is a possibility.  Lawyers would be most interested in this angle of the story.  This is because Airbus claims they sent out a notification for changing this instrumentation and Air France hadn’t done it.  I see many potential lawsuits arguing about responsibility for this situation.  If true, Air France was negligent in the extreme.


Pictured: Air France fuselage found near to where Flight 447 disappeared as six bodies are recovered from ocean | Mail Online

The French accident investigation agency, BEA, found the doomed plane received inconsistent airspeed readings by different instruments as it struggled in a massive thunderstorm on its flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in the early hours of Monday morning. Airbus had recommended to all its airline customers that they replace speed-measuring instruments known as Pitot tubes on the A330, the model used for Flight 447, said Paul-Louis Arslanian, the head of the agency. ‘They hadn’t yet been replaced’ on the plane that crashed, said Alain Bouillard, head of the French investigation. Air France declined immediate comment….

But look at this news tidbit buried in this story at the end!

A Spanish pilot has reported a flash of light at the time it disappeared. ‘Suddenly we saw in the distance a strong, intense flash of white light that took a downward, vertical trajectory and disappeared in six seconds,’ the pilot of an Air Comet flight from Lima to Madrid told his company.

There was a Spanish plane that took off right behind, by mere minutes, the Air France jet.  It saw the storm. It didn’t fly into the storm.  Either the pilots were smarter than the Air France pilots or the Air France pilots were unaware of danger due to some malfunction in the jet’s computer information systems.  Though they said nothing about this.


But the business about the bright flash is interesting and so people SPECULATE about this.  Speculation means to think about things and deduce stuff due to incoming data and to suggest [another amazing English word!] that there is some probability [ditto, interesting word] that a meteorite could [ring the bell for another amazing English word denoting probability] have hit the jet.  This has happened in the past [just like bombs have taken down jets at 30,000 ft].


Did a meteor bring down Air France 447? | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine


Obviously for any given flight the chances are very, very small that a meteor will bring down an airliner, but as Hailey and Helfand pointed out in a letter to the NYT in 1996, the correct question to ask is this: “What is the probability that, for all flights in history, one or more could have been downed by a meteor?” They concluded that there was a 1-in-10 chance that this could happen…let’s use their logic, brought up to date somewhat, for 2009, for Flight 447.

Helfand, an astronomer, is presumably the one who estimated that “approximately 3,000 meteors a day with the requisite mass strike Earth”. This is a difficult number to get. How much mass? How fast does it need to be moving? But let’s assume that this number is correct; it translates to 125 meteors per hour.

Next we need to know the total number of flight hours at altitude for all commercial planes. In 2000 there were about 18 million flights per year. Clearly in the past 20 years (which we’ll take as our reference, since it spans 1989-2009, with both flights 800 and 447) it was not always so…but let’s take a guess that the 18 million figure is roughly correct for that 20 year period. That would yield 360 million commercial airline flights from 1989-2000. Hailey and Helfand assumed that each flight was two hours in duration. Again, a tough number to find on line, so we’ll take it at face value, giving us 720 million flight hours in our reference period.




As per usual, I go to Google and look up data.  I knew about all the various meteorite events listed below.  I have a fairly good memory, can even remember my own name…er…hey, who am I?  


Back to business, I located some stories about these meteorite strikes and wish to share them here:  


APOD: 2002 November 18 – The Car, the Hole, and the Peekskill Meteorite

Explanation: The Peekskill meteor of 1992 was captured on 16 independent videos and then struck a car.Documented as brighter than the full Moon, the spectacular fireball crossed parts of several US states during its 40 seconds of glory before landing in PeekskillNew York. The resulting meteoritepictured here, is composed of dense rock and has the size and mass of an extremely heavy bowling ball. If you arelucky enough to find a meteorite just after impact, do not pick it up — parts of it are likely to be either very hot or very cold. In tonight‘s possibly spectacular Leonid meteor shower, few meteors, if any, are expected to hit the ground.

YouTube – Peekskill Fireball Meteor

A meteorite falling usually means little to us since they are usually burned to nothingness or a fine dust when they finally pass through all of our atmosphere.  On the moon, this doesn’t happen so it is pockmarked with many strikes, big and small.  The earth actually accumulates a surprising amount of celestial matter via these infalls.


Neagari Meteorite (Ishiwatari Lab., Kanazawa Univ.)

A stone meteorite was found by the second author (Sasatani) in a small town near Kanazawa, central Japan, in the morning of Sunday, February 19th, 1995. Place of finding is Ho-4, Taisei, Neagari (pronounced neh-ah-gari) Town, Nomi County, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan (N36o6’57”, E136o7’55”), and it is named “Neagari Meteorite.” The meteorite hit a car parked in the central shopping district of the town (Photo A). Sasatani started his car which was parked aside his house that morning, and found that the rear trunk cover of his car flapped. He found a black, rounded stone on the trunk cover, which was trapped in a triangular hole at the center of the trunk cover.

The shape of the hole formed on the car indicates that the meteorite came from NNW direction (333o at an impact angle of 40o from the horizon (Photo B). Size and weight of the biggest fragment (presumably about 2/3 of the entity) are W6.5 x H4.0 x L6.0 cm (Length may have been 10 cm before crush) and 325 g, respectively. The meteorite is egg-shaped. Black glass crust, 1 mm thick, covers all over the surface. The interior is gray white, fine-grained rock (Photo C). There were three other major fragments (40, 30 and 18 g) and many tiny fragments in and outside the trunk. Weight of the collected fragments totals 420 g, but the original weight may have been about 500 g before crush. White paint fragments of the car are attached to the glass surface of the meteorite in a circular manner, suggesting that the meteorite rotated around its axis parallel to its flight direction when it hit the car (Photo D). However, the western side of the impact hole is bounded by a supporting pipe, and the shape of the hole is apparently controlled by this pipe (Photo B). It is also possible that the meteorite came from the north or northeast. The meteorite may have been prevented to pass through the trunk cover by the pipe and rotated toward northwest.



Meteorite Crashes In N.J. Bathroom

Scientists have confirmed that the strange, silvery rock that tore a hole in the roof and landed on the bathroom of the Nageswaran family more than a week ago had been a meteorite. Although about 50 extraterrestrial rocks crash on Earth regularly, it rarely strikes homes. “The fact that something from outer space hit our house … it’s overwhelming,” Shankari Nageswaran said in an interview.

The biggest obvious meteorite strike we see on earth today is Meteor Crater in Arizona.  Since then, scientists have used various devices to discover much, much bigger meteorite strikes in various places and even suggest, these earlier hits caused tremendous disruptions for life on earth and possibly [yes, I actually use that word] caused mass extinctions.  The probability of this being the cause of the jet’s disintegration is very small but quite possible.  


Even with this possibility, there is the probability that the Spanish pilots did see a meteorite but it was not in the direct vicinity of the jet that went down.  We do know that the pieces being found, of this jet, are fairly small and the probability that it broke up before hitting the water is quite possible [sigh, I hope this satisfies everyone who can’t figure out what speculative thinking is].  There is more incoming information to digest:


Sunday Herald: International: International

AMID THE media frenzy and speculation over the disappearance of Air France’s ill-fated Flight 447, the loss of two of the world’s most prominent figures in the war on the illegal arms trade and international drug trafficking has been virtually overlooked. Pablo Dreyfus, a 39-year-old Argentine who was travelling with his wife Ana Carolina Rodrigues aboard the doomed flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, had worked tirelessly with the Brazilian authorities to stem the flow of arms and ammunition that for years has fuelled the bloody turf wars waged by drug gangs in Rio’s sprawling favelas. Also travelling with Dreyfus on the doomed flight was his friend and colleague Ronald Dreyer, a Swiss diplomat and co-ordinator of the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence who had worked with UN missions in El Salvador, Mozambique, Azerbaijan, Kosovo and Angola. Both men were consultants at the Small Arms Survey, an independent think tank based at Geneva’s Graduate Institute of International Studies. The Survey said on its website that Dryer had helped mobilise the support of more than 100 countries to the cause of disarmament and development.

This goes back to the false bomb threat.  Maybe that was done by the gun/drug gangs and then they went after the guy they wanted to snuff.  It is yet another possibility.  We don’t know, at least, not yet.  This might remain one of life’s many riddles.  Not all things can be definitively answered.  


Personally, I am rather puzzled as to why the Spanish flight knew not to fly directly into a thunderstorm but the French flight did.  Too bad, we can’t get an answer to that riddle even if we do find the black box.  Sometimes, humans do dumb things.

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17 responses to “Meteorite Striking Jets: Some Probabilities

  1. the likelihood of a metorite strik in any situation exist, but it is slim. Real slim.

    Still its a possibility.


  2. How could they screw up the speed indicator? Thats a pretty basic thing, a tube [how complicated is that?] and i suppose an impeller connected to a voltmeter. These things have been around a LONG time.

  3. charlottemom

    This is interesting and amusing. Let me get this straight, “science media” is positing that a meteorite caused of air crash but absolutely no mention or thought of a bomb as a crash possibility. Scientific method be damned — let’s reach for the most remote, implausible, outlier possibility and ignore and discard the most obvious.

    We will not acknowledge, focus, comment upon the elephant in the middle of the room! As they say, the man who pretends to sleep is always the most difficult to wake.

  4. emsnews

    They do admit now that the jet is in many smallish pieces. I forgot to note that meteor hits on things on earth usually leave neat, clean holes. We know from history that jets at 30,000 feet have lost entire sections of a roof and still flew to safety.

  5. shockuhzulu

    I was in Kansas City one clear night, and heard a whistling sound coming towards me. I instinctively looked up and saw a small fiery glow in the sky fly directly in front of me at a height of about 100 feet. I followed the blur with my eye and in several moments heard a metallic thunk in the distance about a block away.

    This all happened rather quickly. I knew it was the closest I had ever been and hopefully the closest I’ll ever get to a meteorite.

  6. I walked out to my mailbox one morning and I swear I saw one just up the road.

    I’m not kidding.

    Seemed real to me.

    I remember!

    nice reminescence (spelling?) shockuhzulu!

    Shock U!

  7. but to add a bit more detail, it was around the time of a well-known comet and it looked green to me.

    That is what I saw.

    It was beautiful.

    I felt honored.

  8. JT

    “Personally, I am rather puzzled as to why the Spanish flight knew not to fly directly into a thunderstorm but the French flight did.”

    L’arrogance française?

  9. shockuhzulu

    Yes, Ken it was shocking! And humbling to know that at any moment a piece of rock could fly into the side of my head and I wouldn’t know what hit me.

  10. “How could they screw up the speed indicator? Thats a pretty basic thing, a tube [how complicated is that?] and i suppose an impeller connected to a voltmeter. These things have been around a LONG time.”

    The aviation forum that was linked in a previous comment had a good rundown on that. A pitot tube is just that, a tube, which sticks out into the air. Apparently the one on this plane could get clogged by ice and stop functioning. That’s why there was an order to have it replaced with one that had better drainage of some sort.

    Or so I seem to recall.

  11. pitot tubes can get clogged. Happens all the time. Even to the best of em.

    Still, with proper redundancy safety would increase exponentially.

    So begs the question.

    What is the priority.

    I hope not profit.

  12. BUT,

    evidence is evidence.

    It speaks for itself.

    Any good engineer knows this right off the bat!

  13. nah

    seems like flying on an airplane is kinda magical… if you didnt think you could die in a fiery crash… wouldnt quite feel so funny some times flying
    airplanes should be soooooo boaring

  14. JSmith

    “Meteorite Striking Jets: Some Probabilities”

    Now, that’s original!

  15. criticalcontrarian

    Well, I suspect this latest news, uh, I meant “booga booga” will make a few people say, “I told you so”. Personally, I find this too convenient, and it took them 5 days to put this one together from a flight manifest, oh boy…

  16. emsnews

    Thanks for the link, Criticalcontrarian.

    Yes, it took 5 days. This is because the French list was SECRET and so they probably knew this information about 4-5 days ago but it only made the news today.

    Obviously, it takes more than one day for secret information to get clearance from officials before it is handed off to the news media.

    This adds to the mysteries here, doesn’t it? And it justifies my reporting here! I cover the news. I take in all possibilities and probabilities and I expand on these so we get this thing called ‘a bigger picture’.

    Then we wait for MORE NEWS! Isn’t that fun? This is how one figures out things or keeps up with world events.

    Hard to believe. But it is my methodology.

  17. Jimmy

    BTW, TinyURL doesn’t work with links like this. Seems it disappeared for awhile…

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