Today's episode of Everybody's Favorite Meteorite brings the nation disturbing news: That spunky bit of chondrite that plummeted into a Lorton, Va., doctors' office on Jan. 18, delighting an international audience with news of its fireball entrance, may not go on to a spot of glory in the Smithsonian after all.
The doctors who were nearly bonked on the head by the thing when it came streaking from the asteroid belt into Examining Room No. 2 in the Williamsburg Square Family Practice, gave it to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. In return, Smithsonian officials planned to give them $5,000 in appreciation. The doctors, Marc Gallini and Frank Ciampi, planned to donate the money to earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. The Smithsonian planned to put the meteorite on prominent display and study it as a 4.5 billion-year-old postcard from the formation of the solar system.
But in an extraterrestrial soap opera still unfolding, the landlords of the Virginia building that houses the doctors' office now say they are the rightful owners of the meteorite. Museum officials said the landlords informed them, midday Thursday, that they were coming to take the stone out of the Smithsonian by sundown.
Gallini and Ciampi hustled to get a lawyer to fire off a letter to the museum, barring them from releasing the stone, pending resolution of ownership.
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"The landlords intend to take it," Gallini said. "It isn't nice."
Deniz Mutlu, a member of the family who owns the building, said Thursday afternoon that "it's staying in the Smithsonian for now, and that's all I can say."
The Smithsonian is just trying to stay out of it.