Sibling prank behind Wellington couple's 'space rock' find

By Jamie Morton

A rock found in the backyard of a Wellington house was the result of a sibling prank - not a metor shower. Photo/File
A rock found in the backyard of a Wellington house was the result of a sibling prank - not a metor shower. Photo/File

A "space rock" found in the backyard of a Wellington couple's home has turned out to be nothing more than a prank between siblings.

"We were had," admitted Joyce Lockyer, who along with husband Graeme featured prominently in national media for what they reckoned was a meteorite that had slammed into their Wainuiomata garden.

The couple had returned from holiday to find the rock in their backyard, in a small "crater" complete with what appeared to be scorch marks.

Joyce Lockyer's younger brother John Shiel, of Levin, told Fairfax he was behind the prank.

Shiel said he'd had the rock for years, after finding it on the roadside. He admitted playing many pranks on his sister over the years, but this one "was just a little bit better".

Lockyer said her brother would "pay" for the prank.

"It's quite embarrassing, but I will get my sense of humour back shortly. It is quite funny when you look back."

It was first suggested the rock, weighing about 2.4kg, might have been debris from Halley's Comet.

But Stardome astronomer Dr Grant Christie had a simpler explanation: "It was a hoax."

Speaking to the Herald this week, Lockyer said she thought so too.

"We are now firmly of the opinion that it's a practical joke; there's just quite a few things not tying up," she said.

"So we are not even going to bother having it analysed. We feel it's somebody's idea of a prank.

"We were had."

Lockyer said media reports had attracted many sceptical observations from people, one who remarked it looked as if someone had simply tossed a rock over the fence.

"If we lived in normal suburbia, I probably would have thought exactly the same. But we are a long way from our neighbours, which is why we fell for it."

Christie said the story had appeared fishy from the start.

"I don't know why people were getting excited. The whole thing looked contrived."

The prankster had clearly gone to some lengths to make the "landing site" look plausible by adding scorch marks, but Christie said an actual meteorite would have made no such impact.

"Effectively, a meteorite is not coming in at space speed. It's coming in a freefall through the atmosphere, probably only a couple of hundred kilometres an hour, and has cooled off a lot."

Reports of suspected space rocks weren't uncommon - old lumps of iron from sunken remains of old clipper ships had resulted in many excited "finds" on the Auckland's west coast - but confirmed meteorites were extremely rare.

There had only been nine cases in New Zealand history, including a meteorite that punched a hole through the roof of the Archer family's Ellerslie, Auckland, home on June 12, 2004.

Meteorite-related pranks were also sparse: Christie could recall just one. Some Kohimarama residents whose front window was smashed by "space rocks" that had likely instead been thrown by pranksters from the beach below.

"If they think they've found a meteorite, the first thing people should do contact someone who knows something about it."

- NZ Herald

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