The Meteorite Hunter, Part I: The Day the Sands Caught Fire; November 1998; Scientific American Magazine; by Wynn, Shoemaker; 8 Page(s)
Imagine, for a moment, that you are standing in the deep desert, looking northwest in the evening twilight. The landscape is absolutely desolate: vast, shifting dunes of grayish sand stretch uninterrupted in all directions. Not a rock is to be seen, and the nearest other human being is 250 kilometers away. Although the sun has set, the air is still rather warm--50 degrees Celsius--and the remnant of the afternoon sandstorm is still stinging your back. The prevailing wind is blowing from the south, as it always does in the early spring.
Suddenly, your attention is caught by a bright light above the darkening horizon. First a spark, it quickly brightens and splits into at least four individual streaks. Within a few seconds it has become a searing flash. Your clothes burst into flames. The bright objects flit silently over your head, followed a moment later by a deafening crack. The ground heaves, and a blast wave flings you forward half the length of a football field. Behind you, sheets of incandescent fire erupt into the evening sky and white boulders come flying through the air. Some crash into the surrounding sand; others are engulfed by fire.