Ruth Hamilton was fast asleep in her home in British Columbia when she awoke to the sound of her dog barking, followed by “an explosion.” She jumped up and turned on the light, only to see a hole in the ceiling. Her clock said 11:35 p.m.
At first, Hamilton thought that a tree had fallen on her house. But, no, all the trees were there. She called 911 and, while on the phone with an operator, noticed a large charcoal gray object between her two floral pillows.
“Oh, my gosh,” she recalled telling the operator, “there’s a rock in my bed.”
A meteorite, she later learned.
The 2.8-pound rock the size of a large man’s fist had barely missed Hamilton’s head, leaving “drywall debris all over my face,” she said. Her close encounter on the night of Oct. 3 left her rattled, but it captivated the internet and handed scientists an unusual chance to study a space rock that had crashed to Earth.
“It just seems surreal,” Hamilton said in an interview Wednesday. “Then I’ll go in and look in the room and, yep, there’s still a hole in my ceiling. Yep, that happened.”
Meteoroids hurl toward Earth every hour of every day. When they are large enough, survive the trip through the Earth’s atmosphere and stick a landing, they become meteorites. People collect them. Others end up in museums. Some are sold on eBay. In February, Christie’s held a record-shattering auction of rare meteorites, raking in more than $4 million.
On the night the meteorite crashed Hamilton’s sleep in Golden, a town of 3,700 people about 440 miles east of Vancouver, other Canadians had heard two loud booms and seen a fireball streaking across the sky. Some caught the phenomenon on video, according to University of Calgary researchers.
After Hamilton called 911, an officer who went into her house suggested at first that the stray rock may have originated from a blast from roadwork at a nearby highway, she said. But the workers had not done any blasting that night.
Then the officer took another guess: “I think you have a meteorite in your bed.”
Hamilton did not sleep the rest of that night, she said, and sat in a chair, sipping tea as the meteorite sat on her bed. Hamilton told local news outlets that she kept the news to herself at first, but she later reported the episode to researchers at the University of Western Ontario, where Peter Brown, a professor there, confirmed the rock was a meteorite “from an asteroid.”
Hamilton also told her family and friends.
“My granddaughters can say that their grandmother just almost got killed in her bed by a meteorite,” she said.
Meteorites have landed in people’s homes and yards before. In 1982, a 6-pounder crashed into a house in Wethersfield, Connecticut, tore through its second- and first-floor ceilings, rolled into the living room and ricocheted through a doorway and into the dining room. In 2020, an Indonesian coffin-maker was startled by a 4.4-pound meteorite that came through his roof.
The odds of a meteorite hurtling into someone’s home and hitting a bed in any given year is about 1 in 100 billion, Brown said.
Hamilton’s rock was one of two meteorites that hit Golden that night. Researchers about 160 miles east, in Calgary, said they had traveled to the town to find the second one in a field less than a mile away from Hamilton’s house, after triangulating its location based on photographs and videos that several people around the area had sent in.
Alan Hildebrand, an associate professor at the University of Calgary who studies meteorites, said that he and his fellow researchers were so happy to get their hands on the rock that “I think we hugged.”
Meteorites offer a rare opportunity for scientists to learn more about the solar system and the asteroid belt. Researchers can sample their materials instead of gazing at them from afar.
Scientists said they could also use the meteorites to reconstruct their paths from outer space through the atmosphere to the ground, at which point the rocks may have lost about 90% of their mass. During the trip through the air, meteorites can heat up to around 2,000 degrees Celsius, or more than 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit, while traveling at 50 times the speed of sound, though they may be cool to the touch by the time they reach the ground.
After the researchers are finished studying the meteorite, Hamilton said, she planned on keeping it since it landed on her property.
She suggested she was lucky. Asked if she had bought a lottery ticket the next day, she said, no; she had already won.
“I never got hurt,” she said. “I’ve lived through this experience, and I never even got a scratch. So all I had to do is have a shower and wash the drywall dust away.”