Meteors ("falling stars") are objects that pass through the atmosphere, leaving a trail of light. A falling star that hits earth becomes a meteorite, usually composed of iron, stone, or a mix of the two. More than thirty meteorites have been found in Nebraska since the early 1900s.
Meteorites can range in size and weight from dust-like particles to sixty tons. The heat they generate upon hitting the atmosphere usually causes them to explode. Scientists are still unsure of their origin. Some travel in space as fast as ten to fifty miles per second.
One spectacular meteor in Nebraska history fell February 18, 1948, and was seen over a six-state area. Some scientists believe it to have been one of the largest meteors ever observed falling. The Beaver City Times-Tribune, February 26, 1948, reported:
"A brilliant explosion high in the air was seen [February 18] in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, and New Mexico. Civil aeronautics officials and astronomers, including Dr. Oliver C. Collins of the University of Nebr., expressed the opinion the explosion came from a meteor." The August 26, 1948, issue of the Times-Tribune noted that over one thousand fragments had subsequently been recovered. One of the largest was found southwest of Beaver City near the Kansas-Nebraska border and was acquired by the University of Nebraska and the University of New Mexico.