Today is an interesting celestial/astronomical anniversary: 521 years ago tonight, on November 7, 1492, a large meteorite fell out of the sky and landed in a farm field near the walled city of Ensishem, which at the time was located in a province of Europe called “Further Austria” but which is now in France. The Ensisheim Meteorite is the oldest celestial impact in historic times whose fall was both observed and recorded at the time, and for whom fragments of the meteorite still exist. Indeed, the rock that fell from space that night is still located in the town museum in Ensisheim.
The trail of the meteorite was observed for over 150 km as it streaked through the atmosphere, a true “falling star.” The piece of it that survived the fall through the air weighed 127 kg and was made mostly of chondrite.
This is the Ensisheim Meteorite, preserved in the town museum for the past 521 years.
Sebastian Brant, a noted humorist and writer of the time, composed an account of the fall of the meteorite which was widely published in the local provinces. Sigismondo Tisio, a Sienese observer, chronicled the meteorite in his own work published in 1498:
“At this point there has to be mention of the immense portent which was seen this year in Germany; for on the seventh day of November 1492, near the city of Ensisheim and the village of Bauenhem above Basel, a great stone fell out of the sky, triangular in shape, charred; the color of a metallic ore, and accompanied by crashing thunder and lightning. When it had fallen to earth it split into several pieces, for it had traveled at an oblique angle; to the amazement of all, indeed, it flattened the earth when it struck. A chunk of this rock was sent to Francesco Cardinal Piccolomini from Germany all the way to Rome, together with some verses skillfully composed by Sebastian Brant, of which a copy was made for me.”
Of course, the meteorite was said to be an omen. Not long after its fall, Maximilian I, the new Holy Roman Emperor, came to the throne and was at war with France.
Amazing things sometimes fall from the sky. Okay, it’s not as exciting as the moon blowing up, but still.