Little Bits of History

Gifts From the Heavens

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 7, 2014
Ensisheim meteorite depiction

Ensisheim meteorite depiction

November 7, 1492: The Ensisheim meteorite lands on Earth.  It is the oldest meteorite with a known date of impact. The 280 pound ordinary chondrite meteorite hit outside the walled town of Ensisheim in what was known as Alsace, Further Austria then and is now part of France. The triangular shaped object hit in a wheat field and created a three foot deep hole upon impact. As it came through the atmosphere, it appeared as a fireball and could be seen at distances about 95 miles away. The townspeople came to the field and raised the stone from the hole in which it was buried. They began to chip away at the rock, but the local magistrate stopped them from destroying the remnant.

The meteorite was saved to give it to King Maximilian, son of Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick III.  A small portion of the rock was sent to Cardinal Piccolomini who later became Pope Pius III. Sebastian Brandt, a author of the time, composed the poem “Loose Leaves Concerning the Fall of the Meteorite” and some of these verses were also sent to the Vatican. Brandt created publications in both Latin and German with his poetry and declared the meteorite to be an omen. It was also included it in Folio 257 of the Nuremberg Chronicle. The German painter and mathematician Albrecht Durer made sketches of his observations of the fall of the meteorite.

A meteorite is a solid piece of debris which survives a trip through the atmosphere and lands on Earth. It originates in outer space, usually from an asteroid or comet. When it enters the atmosphere, there are changes in pressure, friction, and chemical reactions which cause the rock to heat up and radiate energy as heat, forming a fireball. This is known as a meteor or shooting star. If there is enough substance to survive the trip through the atmosphere and something actually lands on Earth, it changes into a meteorite. A bolide is an extraterrestrial body which collides with Earth or an exceptionally bright meteor, and it need not survive to impact.

The Hoba meteorite is the largest such object we know about. The meteorite landed about 80,000 years ago in what is today Namibia. It has been uncovered but because of its large size (around 60 tonnes) it has never been moved. It is made of iron. It was discovered by accident and reports were first published in 1920. Only about 6% of meteorites are made of iron or a blend of rock and metal. Most (86%) of them are chondrites named for the small particles or chondrules of which they are composed. The remaining 8% are achondrites, meaning they do not contain chondrules and they may be similar to terrestrial igneous rocks. Most meteorites are recovered because of eyewitnesses reporting the fireball as it enters the atmosphere and lands.

I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. – Jack London

A friend of mine described it this way: When they were born it was like a meteor landed in our house and blew everything apart. We had to just put all the pieces back. – Christine Lahti

Men of genius are often dull and inert in society; as the blazing meteor, when it descends to earth, is only a stone. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As a kid I’d lie awake at night and convince myself that a meteor was about to hit the Earth. It’s my fatalistic streak, which I’ve inherited from my mum. I firmly believe something cataclysmic is going to happen in my lifetime and I have to be prepared to run for my life when the time comes. – Ellie Goulding

Also on this day: Galloping Gertie – In 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed.
Belief – In 1837, Elijah Lovejoy was killed as he tried to protect his printing press.
MoMA – In 1929, the art museum opened.
Carl was Stoked – In 1967, Carl Stokes was elected mayor of Cleveland, Ohio.


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