Meteor impacts Ensisheim 529 years ago in oldest recorded impact

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November 7, 2021 marks 529 years since the commonly accepted date a heavy stony meteorite crashed into today’s France in what is one of the oldest known meteorite impacts on Earth in history. recorded.

Now known as the Ensisheim meteorite, the object crashed into the ground outside Ensisheim in Alsace, forming an impact crater about 1 meter deep. No one was injured in the impact, which was reportedly seen by only a young boy, but word quickly spread throughout town.

The meteor itself weighed 127 kilograms and was classified as an ordinary chondrite, the most common type of meteor. This classification means that it is stony in composition and was never altered before separating from its parent asteroid. There are tens of thousands of known meteorites of this type, so in theory, the Ensisheim meteorite itself shouldn’t stand out too much.

But what makes this meteorite so important is not only that it had an impact and its impact was recorded, but the influence it had on subsequent historical events.

The meteorite quickly became a divine omen, although the exact meaning was unclear at the time. Regardless, it was immediately considered to be something divine, which prompted the people of Ensisheim to quickly start breaking up parts to use them as good luck charms – although the local Chief Magistrate was there. quickly put an end to it, transporting it to the local parish church. .

A portrait of the Germanic Roman Emperor Maximilian I, painted by artist Albrecht Dürer in 1519 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The sense of omen quickly solidified later in the month, when Maximilian I, then King of the Romans and who later became Holy Roman Emperor, arrived in Enshisheim. Maximilien was on his way to fight the French but had become fascinated by the stone. He and his advisers soon declared it a holy omen, signifying Maximilian’s favor of God. This was aided by the shape of the meteor, described by many as triangular, much like the Greek letter Delta, which has been compared to the sign of the Holy Trinity.

The story of the meteor soon spread throughout Europe. This was due in part to two reasons. One was the sheer volume of the meteorite’s impact, with contemporary sources indicating that it was heard at least 100 miles away, as reported in a 1992 academic article.

But what was even more important was that it was printed and broadcast. The impact was the first known meteorite impact after the rise of the printing press. Thus, detailed news was able to spread quickly. Soon after, the news spread to several cities with the help of large-format newspapers featuring poet Sebastian Brant’s writings regarding the impact, as well as dramatic illustrations.

The dramatic style of writing these verses, written in Latin and German, describes the awe-inspiring sight of the meteorite, the powerful sound the impact produced and the depth and meaning it had for Maximilian and, more importantly, for the French.

“It scared the French,” reads a translation of the German poem. “Really,” I said, “it means a special plague on these people.”

“It resonated in the ears of the Burgundians and made the French tremble”, one reads in a translation of the Latin poem. “Either way, I believe it portends a great future event; it, I pray, may defeat our formidable enemies.”

The meteorite itself has been preserved in Ensisheim, kept in the church where an inscription attached to it reads the Latin phrase: De hoc lapide multi multa, omnes aliquid, nema satis (“Many have spoken of this stone, all have said something, no one has said enough”). However, as noted by the Meteorological Society of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, it was removed during the French Revolution and sent to a museum for 10 years before being returned to Ensisheim, although it was greatly reduced. in size after many people. chipped parts of it. Today, the meteorite weighs just 53.831 kilograms and is currently on display at the city‘s Regency Museum.

The remains of the Ensisheim meteorite.  (credit: Wikimedia Commons)The remains of the Ensisheim meteorite. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Although this meteor did not cause serious permanent damage, the dangers of such an impact are still serious.

The last known significant asteroid impact occurred on February 15, 2013, when an asteroid exploded in mid-air over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The asteroid was 17 meters wide and, although it claimed no casualties, the shock wave from the explosion shattered the windows of six different Russian cities and forced 1,500 people to receive medical treatment.

The destructive nature of even the smallest asteroids is well known to experts, with space agencies around the world monitoring potential catastrophic impacts and looking for potential ways to stop them.

One method of possibly stopping the impact of an asteroid is to use deflection, which would mean throwing something to change its course slightly.

This essentially means hitting an asteroid with a rocket with sufficient speed to change its direction by a fraction of a percent.

However, other measures have also been considered – such as the disruption, that is, the destruction of the asteroid, but for now – these remain hypothetical.

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