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Historic Meteorites

Part of Hall of Meteorites.

A.4. HISTORIC METEORITES copy hero

Meteorites—and the dramatic fireballs that announce their arrival—have long instilled both fear and wonder in the human imagination. Yet scientists did not begin to understand meteorites until fairly recently. It wasn't until the early 1800s, after researchers investigated a series of dramatic meteorite falls in both Europe and the United States, that most scientists accepted that rocks actually fall to Earth from space. Today, better technology allows researchers to study meteorites in new ways and unlock their many secrets.

In This Section

A.4.1. Ensisheim. A 500 year-old fall A hero

Ensisheim

A 500-year-old fall

Around 11:30 A.M. on November 16, 1492, a young boy saw a large stone plummet from the sky and land in a wheat field near the town of Ensisheim in Alsace, France. This fall is the earliest one witnessed in the Western world from which meteorite samples have been preserved.

The Ensisheim meteorite was considered a sign of good luck from God. Immediately after it fell, people began chipping off pieces as sacred souvenirs. Fragments of Ensisheim can be found in museum collections all over the world.

A.4.2. Krasnojarsk. Rocks from space? hero

Krasnojarsk

Rocks from space?

When the Krasnojarsk meteorite was found in 1749, no one believed that rocks came from space. But after Ernst Chladni, a German physicist, analyzed this meteorite's unusual mixture of stone and iron, he began to convince skeptics that meteorites did indeed originate far from Earth. For his innovative work, Chladni became known as the father of meteoritics—the study of meteorites.

A.4.3. Wold Cottage. Evidences of celestial origin hero

Wold Cottage

Evidences of celestial origin

The Wold Cottage meteorite made quite a splash when it landed in Yorkshire, England, on December 13, 1795: a farmhand standing near the impact site was splattered with mud. Many other villagers also watched the fall. Analysis of the stone's composition by scientists at the Royal Society provided additional evidence that meteorites do indeed have extraterrestrial origins.

A meteorite that fell on L'aigle, France in 1803. A brownish rock with rusty reddish flecks on its surface.

L’aigle

Final proof

On April 26, 1803, meteorites rained down on the town of L'Aigle in Normandy, France. A number of people, including French officials, witnessed this shower of stones, which firmly established that meteorites can and do drop from the sky. After L'Aigle, museums and private collectors began to include meteorites in their collections.

A.4.5. Weston. America’s first fireball hero

Weston

America’s first fireball

As scientists in Europe continued to debate the extraterrestrial origins of meteorites, their counterparts in the United States discounted the theory—until a meteorite landed in their backyard. In 1807, astonished residents watched a fireball explode in the skies above Weston, Connecticut. 

A.4.6. Allan Hills 76009. Antarctic meteorite hero

Allan Hills 76009

Antarctic meteorite

Since 1976, the Antarctic Search for Meteorites Program, or ANSMET, has found more than 10,000 meteorites. This sample, Allan Hills 76009, was one of the first Antarctic meteorites collected by ANSMET. Discoveries made by the ANSMET program have revolutionized the science of meteorites. For instance, meteorites found in Antarctica helped prove that these objects could come from Mars and the Moon.