This Town Celebrates Every New Year with a Falling Meteor


Video from YouTube User Pam Bergmann

The popular jazz tune “Stars Fell on Alabama” was inspired in part by the Leonid meteor shower in November of 1833, sometimes referred to as “the night the stars fell.” But the central region of Alabama region has a history of meteorite impacts, including a massive impact over 84 million years ago. The town of Wetumpka, Alabama sits in the middle of an ancient 8-kilometer-wide impact crater that was blasted into the bedrock, creating the unique geology of what is now Elmore County.

To celebrate this “striking” heritage, Wetumpka celebrates every New Year’s Eve with a spectacular recreation of a falling, exploding meteor.

Geologists have pieced together the events from millions years ago, when an asteroid nearly the size of a football stadium crashed into what was at the time a coastal basin covered with a shallow sea. The jumbled and disturbed geology of the area hadn’t made sense to local geologists since they started studying it in the 1800’s, and they had no explanations until mapping in the early 1970’s showed that the rocky layers were pointing away from a central location, which led them to suspect some sort of large impact.

However, this location wasn’t verified as an impact crater until fairly recently, when core samples drilled in 1998 confirmed the impact by detecting the presence of shocked quartz. The Wetumpka Impact Crater was officially recognized in 2002, and is now considered to be the best preserved marine impact crater ever discovered.

Meteor Drop, Wetumpka, Alabama (TripAdvisor)Credit: Peggy Blackburn The Wetumpka Herald

And so, in honor of this history, the folks of Wetumpka have been ringing in the new year by having their own ‘meteor’ streak across the sky and drop to the ground, guided by a wire and followed by fireworks. This event has been recognized as one of the top 10 unique New Year’s Celebrations in the U.S. by TripAdvisor.

You can see the preparation for the event at WSFA 12’s story here.
For more information regarding the crater, visit these sites:
Wetumpka Impact Crater Commission
Wetumpka Meteor Crater Tour by the Auburn Astronomical Society
Wetumpka Impact Crater Page

Also, I was born in Wetumpka, so Happy New Year!

Susie Murph

Susie Murph is the Communications Specialist at CosmoQuest. She also produces Astronomy Cast and the Weekly Space Hangout, and is the former producer of the Parsec Award-winning Guide to Space video series.

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