Nininger Moment #13 The Eaton, Colorado Meteorite

In a paper by Harvey Nininger, is the account and information as well as the conclusion of the Eaton, Colorado fall. The fall was called an entirely new type (copper-zinc-lead) and coordinate with the sideritic variety (nickel-irons). In describing any new and different material, Nininger qualified his opening statement by saying he was aware of his obligation to scientists in the various related fields and for accurate investigation of the specimen in question. Had it not been for this awareness a paper would have been published years before, nearer the time of the fall. Nininger’s earlier counselors in the field of meteoritics were Dr. O.C. Farrington and George P. Merrill both cautious scientists. Both had firmly warned Nininger the danger of trusting too far the factor of human testimony in arriving at conclusions regarding the identity of meteorites.

Nininger at the time of his investigation of the Eaton Meteorite had 20 years of investigative experience and several hundred percent more experience in meteorites than either of his mentors to draw from. Everyone who has done much investigation of meteorites in the field has come to realize that as far as human testimony is concern that even cases that appear to be quite sound and make sense but upon investigation of the material found was the result of serious error of judgment on the part of the observer. Dr. Merrill once wrote “when it comes to the identification of meteorites, human testimony can never be considered as evidence. The specimens themselves must always supply the answer.” Nininger stated that although he highly regarded the statement as a very good guide when looking for meteorites it was a bit of an overstatement and had it not been for human testimony that was relied upon in the first place, we should have never known that meteorites exist. The truly scientific procedure is to consider critically all human testimony, to check it against the characteristics of the material under consideration, in the light of all other circumstances related to the case, and then to try, without prejudice, to reach a conclusion that is in harmony with all of the known facts. In the case of the Eaton Fall Nininger expressed that he expected to be criticized. He also stated he felt the matter would be settled in the lap of time.

Nininger further stated that in the course of 20 years he had dealt with the falls of enough meteorites and with enough witnesses of those falls (certainly well above a thousand) to know when a story sounds right. The Eaton Meteorite fall did. Nininger stated that the specimen was right except for one exception and that was of its composition. The Garnett, Kansas, Meteorite found in a cow pasture that showed free copper in this specimen indicating that such a cooper nugget might also be found in a fall if the incoming meteor were to break apart during a fall possible leaving the metal to reach the ground. (note) Some of the Esterville Mesosiderite was recovered in this manor.

On a bright sunny day in May of 1931 a Mr. W. H. Foster, a man of usually quiet manor and of few words, brought to the superintendent John C. Casey of the public schools of Eaton an object that he was somewhat excited but embarrassed about. The object 2.5 inches long and of a very irregular shape had whizzed past his head and struck the ground about 7 feet away. He had been attracted to the humming noise some little time before it reach him. It struck in his garden with a thud and he looked just in time to see the soil turn up upon its arrival. He had been hoeing the garden when he heard the noise. When he stepped up to the point and saw a bright metallic part of the object at the point of the fall He then bent over to pick it up. In doing so he averred that he burnt his finger, and the superintendent testified that his finger showed a fresh burn half way between its tip and first joint. He had come to the superintendent for an explanation of the event. After careful discussion of the event they ruled out several possibilities including a meteorite as it didn’t fit the description. Three weeks later the story was related to Nininger in a story from a friend who asked his opinion. A few days later Nininger went to investigate the fall along with Mr. Frank Howland, the curator of Minerals at the Colorado Museum of Natural History, Denver.

They found Mr. Foster still in possession of the nugget and were lead to the spot in the garden of the fall. His story conformed well with that related by Nininger’s friend. Mr. Foster placed no particular value on the object and was glad to lend it to Nininger for study in which he set no time limit, but did asked for the piece back after study. The Superintendent substantiated everything as far as he had been witness to and who assured Nininger that Mr. Foster had a good reputation in the community. Nininger later on stated that they could not find any justification of doubting the sincerity of Mr. Foster and the accuracy of his report. Later on Nininger convinced Mr. Foster to sell the specimen to him so that in the event it was a rare find that it would not be lost to science. The sum of $5.00 was paid for the piece. Because of its extreme radical departure from the known range of meteoritic composition, Nininger decided to devote a great effort to disqualify the specimen for admission to the extra-terrestrial ranks.

Source: The Published Papers Of H.H. Nininger
By the Center for Meteorite Studies Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

Published originally in Popular Astronomy May 1943 Pg. 273 to 280

The Nininger Moments are articles or books written originally by Harvey Nininger and put into a consolidated form by Al Mitterling. Some of the items written in the moments might be old out dated material and the reader is advised to keep this in mind.

–AL Mitterling

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