Saturday, June 22, 2013

What to Do With a Meteorite

“…And meteors fright the fixed stars of heaven;
The pale-faced moon looks bloody on the earth
And lean-look'd prophets whisper fearful change.”
Richard II, William Shakespeare

Last February, a meteor streaked across the sky over Chelyabinsk, in eastern Russia.  Almost a thousand people were injured in the shock wave it caused.  The meteor exploded and burned up in the air, as most do.  But the incident revived the public’s interest in comets, asteroids and meteors.  Is it not unnerving to think that a large rock could strike the earth, our only home in the wide dark universe? 

Had the space rock survived its flight through the atmosphere and hit the ground, it would be called a meteorite.  We know from the movies and countless science fiction and horror stories that this is nearly always a bad thing, an evil portent, as it was in ancient days.

Various Rocks From Space and What They Brought Us

Invasion, Subversion, and Juvenile Delinquency
What appears to be a meteorite is actually the crash site of an alien space craft in It Came From Outer Space (1953).  Local people begin to vanish in a small Arizona town; when they reappear they behave strangely and secretively.  What are they up to?  In Kronos (1957), a meteorite crashes into the ocean, and a few days later a giant alien machine emerges from the water and begins extracting energy from our planet.  A meteor that crashes somewhere out west introduces a dangerous chemical reaction in the Monolith Monsters (1957).  The space crystals suck the water out of everything and grow as tall as skyscrapers.  Also out west, radioactivity from a fallen space rock turns a teenager into psychopathic killer in Teenage Monster (1958). 

Rounding out the 50s is the classic meteorite horror film The Blob (1958), in which an amorphous creature envelops and dissolves its victims whole.  No one will believe the town’s teenagers until it is almost too late.  Earlier in this same decade, the world was warned, in The Thing from Another World, (1951) to “Watch the skies everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies."  And with good reason.  

Sometimes the effect of the meteorite’s arrival is incidental to the real terror.  In The Day of the Triffids (1962), people around the world are blinded by a meteorite shower, which leaves them vulnerable to attack by carnivorous plants.  In the original story, the Triffids are created in a laboratory and later escape; in the movie they arrive on a meteor as alien spores.  A meteorite crashes into a lake and its warmth incubates a dinosaur egg in The Crater Lake Monster, (1977), making life more complicated in a nearby community.

Disease and Parasites
Many movies involving meteorites deal with the theme of contagion.  In Die Monster Die! (1965), the radioactive emanations of a meteorite have a gradual but fatal effect on the inhabitants of an old gothic mansion, where the rock is kept hidden in the basement.  This is one of the very few films based on Lovecraft’s famous story, The Colour Out of Space, but takes some liberties with the original.  In Lovecraft’s tale, a meteorite contaminates the ground water of an entire region, with dire effects on sanity and health.  In a sense, it is an early environmental disaster story.  (I want to say more about both of these in a future post.)

In Alien Dead (1980), boaters are converted by a meteorite into cannibalistic zombies.  In Creepshow (1982), a wonderful collection of short horror films, there is a segment starring Stephen King himself in the lead as an uneducated farmer who discovers a hazardous green moss where a space rock has fallen.  Campers are threatened by alien parasites that arrive by meteorite in The Deadly Spawn (1983).  

One of my favorites in this category of meteorite horror flicks is Slither (2006), in which the space parasites are able to transform humans into zombies controlled by a single telepathic alien intelligence, embodied in a hideous and very Lovecraftian creature with tentacles.

More recently, asteroids, comets and meteors have been the subject of disaster movies like Deep Impact (1998), Armageddon (1998), and The Apocalypse (2007).  Here the terror comes not so much from what the space rock brings with it, but what it is or represents:  the end.
When You Find a Meteorite
1.  Do not touch it, not even with a stick or screwdriver.
2.  Do not attempt to break off a piece of it to save it as a souvenir.
3.  Avoid making jewelry out of it, as ancient Egyptians once did.
4.  Do keep yourself at a safe distance—perhaps the next town over.
5.  Do not attempt to move the rock to your car, truck or basement.
6.  If the meteorite is glowing, throbbing, humming, or visibly shrinking—contact the authorities.
7.  If it begins to crack along its side or fall open at the top—run—and contact the authorities.
8.  If a meteorite falls nearby and people begin to disappear or act strangely—contact the authorities.

Watch the skies, and if anything should fall from them into your vicinity, contact the authorities.


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