‘Meteorite crash’ staged at Tasmanian school to promote science causes alarm for some on Facebook

A faked meteorite crater in a school car park, concocted to promote a science “discovery day”, has been so well executed it sparked alarm on social media — with school leaders admitting “we didn’t think it would go this big”.

Photos of a steaming “impact crater” in the Corpus Christi Catholic School car park, along with people in hazmat suits inspecting a large boulder in an area cordoned off by police tape, were posted on the school’s Facebook page and shared to the Lauderdale Fire Brigade’s page.

A truck from the brigade is pictured in one of the photos, along with a police car and smiling officers in attendance at the “crash”.

The Facebook post said: “Breaking news. A meteorite has struck the front of our school. The authorities are here. Please stay clear of the area while they conduct their investigations. #discoveryday”.

Deputy principal Ben Morgan said the idea of a Monday morning surprise for the students had been in the pipeline for the past month.

“We held a staff meeting and decided we wanted to hold a discovery day around science, maths and measurement in the last week of term. Our staff put their heads together and came up with the idea.

“It was good timing because the asphalt out the front of the school was getting replaced in the holidays, so we saw that as an opportunity.”

Mr Morgan said he did not expect the event to gain so much attention online.

“We didn’t think it would go this big. We thought people would realise pretty quickly when we put the #discoveryday at the end [of the Facebook post],” he said.

“I suppose a lot of people are seeing the photos and just sharing it based on that.”

While the school’s post drew mostly praise for the “absolutely fantastic” stunt, some on the Facebook page of the Lauderdale Fire Brigade were left confused.

One person observed “if a meteorite that big had of [sic] hit the ground … most of Hobart would be missing.”

Another resident wanted more information.

“Can anyone shed some light on this? Something that size going that speed would likely leave a bigger trail of destruction, plus it would have made one hell of a noise as well,” they said.

Another worried citizen noted “a meteor that large would leave a longer skid mark and maybe bounce a bit before stopping”.

One person wrote of her relief, but scolded the brigade for crying “wolf”.

“Wow, they were lucky no-one was injured, unbelievable.

“You could have put ‘simulation’ on it in the first place! Very disappointing for a local fire station post! We all know what happened to the boy who called wolf!”

The fire brigade eventually updated its post about the event to include the words “it’s not real”.

It wasn’t just people on social media who believed there had been a genuine meteorite crash at the school.

“There’s a lot of learning happening … a lot of our students think it’s real,” Mr Morgan said.

In a letter to parents after the event, principal Justin Veitch thanked a member of the school community for “assisting with the earthworks and finding a suitable rock”, adding his thanks to Tasmania Police, the Lauderdale Fire Brigade and MacKillop College “for their assistance in making the day an incredible experience for our students”.

A somewhat less elaborate ‘meteor impact’ was put on by Sacred Heart College in New Town in 2018 — but getting the same result.

“It’s always a challenge getting info from my son about his day … but not today,” one parent wrote on the Sacred Heart page.

“He told me all about it before I even asked. Well done, what a great idea.”

Sara Webb, an astrophysicist with Swinburne University of Technology, assured those worried about an impact that astronomers are “vigilant”.

“We look out for all the asteroids which could potentially harm the earth and that’s what we’ve got on our side that the dinosaurs did not. We’ve got technology to hunt them down,” he said.

Dr Webb said a “meteorite” of the size at Corpus Christi “wouldn’t just stop on the surface of the earth, but it would keep going [underground] … from all of the velocity and momentum”.