AIKEN --- A group of Western meteorite hunters is headed to Augusta, chasing the possibility a meteor hit somewhere in the region early Friday, bringing reports of a loud boom and a fireball in the sky.
"We'll be working on this and will probably arrive to interview anyone who witnessed the fall," said Ruben Garcia, of Phoenix, who works with a group of "professional meteorite hunters" and runs the Web site www.mr-meteorite.net. "Newly fallen meteorites are very important to science and the world."
Mr. Garcia said his team would be willing to pay "top dollar" for any pieces of the meteorite, possibly as much as $10,000 for the first kilogram, or 2.2 pounds.
Whether the meteor made it to the ground before disintegrating is unknown.
The boom heard throughout Augusta and reports of a "large fireball" in the sky between 2 and 3 a.m. Friday could have been caused by a meteor, technically called a bolide, said Dr. Gary Senn, the director of the Dupont Pla- netarium in the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center at USC Aiken.
Dr. Senn said it's possible the meteor could have hit in the Augusta area, but that depends on whether it exploded when entering the atmosphere -- which could have caused the loud boom -- or whether it hit at an angle that left it intact.
If it stayed intact, he said the sound people heard could have been a sonic boom.
"It's very rare, but occasionally if a large enough bolide enters at the right angle it can create a sonic boom," he said.
He said the most common meteorites found have ranged from the size of a small rock to a softball.
A brief power outage occurred at Medical College of Georgia Hospital at 2:41 a.m., according to hospital officials -- about the same time the boom was heard. However, spokeswoman Deborah Humphrey said there is no evidence the two were related.
Dr. Senn said sightings of large fireballs in the sky are somewhat rare, but they have occurred before in the Augusta area.
He said those who saw or heard the fireball are asked to visit www.amsmeteors.org and file a report. Click "fireball sightings," then "fireball reporting form."
The American Meteor Society will use the information to help it determine where the meteor might have hit if it survived entry into the atmosphere.
Reach Preston Sparks at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org