The Very Rev. Paul Carlson was scooping up shingles blown off St. Hyacinth’s Church in La Salle when something caught his eye: Embedded in one of the shingles was a rock-like object.
“I thought it was a little pebble,” Carlson said, “but I didn’t realize it was something different until I picked up the shingle it came with and was melted into the shingle.”
Carlson is a science buff who’s taken a special interest in breakthroughs by clergy — did you know the Big Bang theory was advanced by a French priest around 1927? — but he didn’t have the knowledge or tools needed to analyze the object wedged into the shingle.
For that, he first turned to St. Bede teacher Dan Fitzpatrick.
“He brought it by to show our class,” Fitzpatrick said, recalling that the object was magnetic and, as Carlson recalled it, therefore consistent with a meteorite. But Fitzpatrick agreed more detailed analysis was needed.
Fortunately, one of Carlson’s parishioners is a process development engineer with Carus Chemical Corp., giving him access to the diagnostic tools.
Nick Kelsey, who can also be heard singing and strumming his guitar in the church choir, was able to quickly rule out a meteorite. The chemical analysis showed only a trace amount of nickel, the most common chemical element found in a meteor.
“In addition, I read that most meteorites have with a smooth ‘fusion crust’ that results from it partially melting on its fall to earth,” Kelsey said. “This sample did not appear as such, but rather with jagged edges as if it had been crushed from a larger piece.”
Kelsey said meteorites are “extremely rare,” and because he’d previously worked in steel mills he suspected metal slag. The chemical analysis showed a “very similar” composition to that of electric arc furnace slag, a byproduct of steel making.
“Steel slag is commonly used as aggregate in road construction, so it may have fallen out of a truck on its way to a construction site,” he said, but then added. “How it got stuck in the shingle, though, I’m not sure.”
Carlson wonders if the metal was somehow blown onto the roof.
“I just think it’s interesting, whether it’s a piece of a firework, or aircraft or space junk,” Carlson said. “We’re keeping our eyes open when we pick up new shingles.”
Or could it have been of divine origin? The Old Testament does speak of fire from the sky.
Carlson considered that a moment.
“It gives you pause for thought,” he said.