Historic Meteorite Falls

Last update: 2 July 2016

The Gallery of Historic Meteorite Falls displays a selection of aesthetic and rare meteorite specimens from falls observed over the period 1492-1969. All meteorite specimens displayed in the gallery have an exceptional historical provenance, as they come from the principal investigators in the recovery of these meteorites in the early days after their fall or from other rare sources. The period considered spans from the Middle Ages with the fall of the Ensisheim meteorite in 1492 to the dawn of the space age and modern meteoritics with the fall of the Allende meteorite in 1969. The gallery also includes a section on impactifacts, i.e., man-made objects impacted by a meteorite.

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Civilization II videogame box
Park Forest chondrite
Fell 26 March 2003, Illinois, USA


MicroProse Software Civilization II game CD, complete and still in the original box struck by a meteorite in Park Forest on 26 March 2003.

When "Civilization" is struck by a meteorite

On 26 March 2003 around midnight, a rain of meteorites occurred over the town of Park Forest, in the suburban area of Chicago, Illinois. This led to several meteoritic impacts on man-made objects, including a videogame box [1]. The story of the impact, which occurred over the Navarro household and rated number 6 of the 10 most memorable meteor crashes in history on the website How Stuff Works, is given below:

"If you wait long enough, a piece of outer space itself will come right to you. As Colby Navarro worked innocently on the computer, a rock from space crashed through the roof, struck the printer, banged off the wall, and came to rest near the filing cabinet. This occurred around midnight on March 26, 2003 in Park Forest, Illinois, USA, near Chicago." - NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day July 24, 2003

While the story is amazing by itself (Daily Southtown, 2003; The Star, 2003; [2]), it seems even more fascinating, some might say ironic, that the meteorite struck a videogame named Civilization. Videogame Civilization II has been rated number 3, after Super Mario Bros and Tetris, of the 100 top games of all times (IGN Entertainment, 2007). This extraordinary item was acquired by the Tricottet Collection from Adam Hupé, meteorite hunter. Photographs of the debris field (see also [3]) and of the impact hole attest of the incredible event (photographs courtesy of Adam Hupé - note the video game box on the left of the printer in the debris field). Regarding the Navarro meteorite, meteorite hunter Michael Farmer bought it for $12,000 from Colby Navarro a few days after the event (Sunday Southtown, 2003). Its present whereabouts are unknown. Other celebrated impactifacts include the 1992 Peekskill car (Peekskill Herald, 1992) and the 1984 Claxton mailbox (Bonhams, 2007).

Figures: [1] Videogame box (Park Forest, 2003) | [2] Newspaper clippings (Park Forest, 2003) | [3] Impact debris from Navarro house (Park Forest, 2003)

Rains of Stones and Iron (1804-1969)

Allende CV chondrite
Fell 8 February 1969, Chihuahua, Mexico
Vigarano CV chondrite
Fell 22 January 1910, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Allende meteorite stone deaccessioned from the National Museum of Natural History

Allende stone deaccessioned from the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and found or purchased by the NMNH 1969 recovery team (45 grams).

Collecting CVs, from the Vigarano type meteorite to the 1969 Allende game-changer

The Vigarano meteorite fell on the evening of 22 January 1910, near the village of Vigarano Pieve, west of Ferrara (Emilia-Romagna region, Italy). The fall was accompanied by what was described by eyewitnesses as a very luminous green-reddish tail, followed by two loud bangs and a hiss. The main mass (11.5 kg) was found three metres to the SE of the farmhouse on the Saracca estate, owned by Michele Cariani. It created a crater 70 cm deep and more than 1.5 m wide, melting the snow around. A second part of 4.5 kg was recovered weeks later, in February, at about 700 metres from the main mass, on the Vignola estate owned by Quirino Morandi (e.g., Trevisani, 2011). The carbonaceous meteorite was of a type never seen before and so the CV type was born (one of the most primitive material from the solar system) [1]. Read Trevisani (2011) about the incredible story of the meteorite that includes the disintegration of the lost main mass and the presence of Vigarano fakes in some European museums.

On the morning of 8 February 1969, a brillant fireball was observed over much of northern Mexico and in some neighboring U.S. states. Thousands of stones rained down over a large area of rural Mexico after tremendous detonations were heard. One stone weighing 15 kg fell in the town of Pueblito de Allende. The same day, it was broken up and pieces taken to the office of the newspaper El Correo del Parral. In the evening, the news of a meteorite fall was published. Dr. Elbert A. King from NASA was the first U.S. researcher on the scene (see his personal account in King, 1989) [2]. Scientists from the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) followed within the week after the fall, leading to the recovery of very fresh meteoritic material [3] (Clarke et al., 1970). With the tremendous amount of material collected (and a perfect timing), specimens were used to benchmark NASA's state-of-the-art equipment prepared in view of the return of lunar samples with the Apollo 11 mission. Important findings followed on the formation of the early solar system, overshadowing the lunar rocks themselves...

Figures: [1] Vigarano slice (Uni. Roma) | [2] Allende slice (E.A. King) | [3] Allende stone (NMNH)

NASA negative opinion, Oscar Monnig, Elbert King, meteorite trade, lunar space program, taxes, company

Wiluna H chondrite
Fell 2 September 1967, Western Australia, Australia

Wiluna meteorite stone deaccessioned from the Western Australian Museum

Wiluna oriented stone deaccessioned from the Western Australian Museum (WAM) (12 grams).

On the night of 2 September 1967, following the appearance of a bright fireball accompanied by sonic phenomena, a large shower of meteorites fell 8 km east of the Wiluna township, Western Australia, over a 6.7 km by 3.2 km strewnfield elongated NW-SE. The largest stones (up to 10 kg) were collected from the NW end of the ellipse while numerous small masses were collected from the SE end. Specimens were found lying on soil or even caught in trees. It is estimated that between 500 and 1,000 stones fell, with a total weight exceeding 250 kg (McCall and Jeffery, 1970; McCall, 1972; Bevan, 2006). 490 individuals and a great number of broken fragments were recovered by a party from the Western Australian Museum (WAM) and Aborigines (McCall, 1972). Most of the specimens (480 individuals and many fragments totalling 145.7 kg, McCall and Jeffery, 1970) are held by the WAM [1-2]. The 1972 supplement (McCall, 1972) to the WAM meteorite collection catalogue (McCall and De Laeter, 1965) reads:

"WAM nos 13005 - 13010, 6 fragments. WAM no. 12034, 179 meteorite masses and 140 fragments, two tins of very small masses collected at the south east end, near Millbillillie shearing shed by Amy Abott [...]"

Number 12034 is certainly a typo as most Wiluna stones from WAM carry the number 12934 [1-2]. The information "two tins of very small masses" might correspond to the remaining 301 stones of the 480 ones indicated in McCall and Jeffery (1970). It is however difficult to estimate the weight range of these stones from that sole information.

Figures: [1] Oriented stone (WAM, white no.) | [2] Oriented stone (WAM, red no.)

WANTED: McCall, G. J. H. (1972), Catalogue of Western Australian Meteorite Collections. Western Australian Museum Special Publications, vol. 3, Second Supplement

Norton County aubrite
Fell 18 February 1948, Norton County, Kansas, USA

The Furnas stone: "Home at last: Dr. Lincoln LaPaz, sparkplug of the UNM searching party, looks on with affection as the now-famous meteorite arrives safely on the UNM campus." (Lobo, 1948)

The largest achondrite stone fallen from the sky & the legacy of Lincoln LaPaz

On the afternoon of 18 February 1948, an explosion was heard by the residents of Norton, Kansas. The blast was large enough to shake buildings and crack a few windows. Most of the population of Norton and neighboring towns were out in the street within seconds. While it was first believed that a plane had crashed, after new reports of the event from places spanning from south Kansas to Nebraska, it was recognized that the explosion had been far greater than could have been caused by a plane. It was in fact a meteor disintegrating at high altitude (The Norton County Champion, 1948) [1]. A few weeks after the incident, the first meteorite fragments from the Norton County fireball were found:

"Mr. Tansill on April 6 found the first fragment to be located. It lay in a clover field on land he owns about a mile and a quarter north of his home, where he was working with a tractor and suddenly noticed the fragment sparkling "like a million diamonds"." - The Norton Daily Telegraph (1948)

Dr. Lincoln LaPaz (1897-1985) [2], founder and director of the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico (UNM) and principal investigator of the Norton County meteorite fall [3-4], was convinced that hundreds of fragments were scattered over a large area. In fact, thousands of fragments were to be found with the majority of the specimens secured in the UNM collection (LaPaz, 1965) [5]. The story of the recovery of the Norton County meteorite is given by LaPaz & LaPaz (1961).

Figures: [1] Newspaper clippings (L. LaPaz) | [2] Photograph of L. LaPaz (L. LaPaz) | [3] Half stone (L. LaPaz) | [4] Note (L. LaPaz) | [5] 20 fragments (UNM)

LaPaz Krinov friendship, Iron Curtain, postcard, envelopes, meteoritics, meteorite

Sikhote-Alin iron
Fell 12 February 1947, Eastern Siberia, Russia

Complete sheet of commemorative postage stamps for the 10th anniversary of the Sikhote-Alin meteorite shower, showing the much-celebrated painting by P. I. Medvedev, who witnessed the fireball's descent.

A bombardment of iron from outer space & the work of Yevgeny Krinov

On the morning of 12 February 1947, inhabitants of the Khabarovsk and Primorsky districts of Russia witnessed a dazzingly bright bolide, accompagnied by a multi-coloured tail which lasted for hours [1-2]. After the bolide disappeared behind the hills in the western outskirts of Sikhote-Alin, loud bangs were heard. The strewnfield was located in the following days by a reconnaissance plane, from which a series of round craters was noticed. The craters were reached on February 24 by local geologists. The first expedition by the Soviet Academy of Sciences (SAS), delayed by heavy snowfalls, took place two months after the fall. Other expeditions followed in the following years leading to more meteorite recoveries. The leading investigators were V. G. Fesenkov (then chairman of the Meteorite Committee) and Yevgeny Leonidovich Krinov (1906-1984). A detailed account of the first four expeditions is given in English by Krinov (1966). For Russian readers, more details on the Sikhote-Alin meteorite fall and recovery efforts by the SAS are given by Fesenkov & Krinov (1959, 1963) [3].
Two types of Sikhote-Alin meteorite specimens can be distinguished: (1) regmaglypted individuals showing fusion crust and signs of atmospheric ablation [4] and (2) shrapnels resulting from violent fragmentation at a later stage of the fall [5]. Both types are represented in The Tricottet Collection.

Figures: [1] Stamp sheet (Soviet Portal Authority) | [2] Lithograph (La Domenica del Corriere, 1947) | [3] 2-volume book (Fesenkov & Krinov, 1959; 1963) | [4] Regmaglypted individual (SAS) | [5] Shrapnel (SAS)

Holbrook L/LL chondrite
Fell 19 July 1912, Navajo County, Arizona, USA

Karoonda meteorite

Reconstitution in studio of the Holbrook meteorite strewnfield downscaled to 2.4 m by 1 m, likely taken or commissioned by Warren M. Foote.

Summary coming later

Figures: [1] Studio photograph (W. Foote?, 1912) | [2] Lithograph (La Domenica del Corriere, 1946) | [3] Stones (AMNH / Bonhams)

Ochansk H chondrite
Fell 30 August 1887, Permskaya oblast, Russia

Summary and images coming later

Alfianello L chondrite
Fell 16 February 1883, Lombardy, Italy
Trenzano H chondrite
Fell 12 November 1856, Lombardy, Italy

Alfianello meteorite Cluj Bombicci

Alfianello cut fragment deaccessioned from the Babeş-Bolyai university (UBB), Cluj-Napoca, Romania and originally obtained from Prof. L. Bombicci (1833-1903) of the University of Bologna (57 grams).

The Brescia sisters Trenzano & Alfianello, their cursed paths seen by Luigi Bombicci

On the afternoon of 16 February 1883, a strong detonation was heard in the province of Brescia in Italy. This was due to the fall of a meteorite near Alfianello. The priest of the village, D. Rabajoli, gives the following account of that fall [1]: The detonation lasted a second and was followed by a noise of wheeling wagons on rails; it made the windows shake and frightened the villagers. We learn from the priest that the Alfianello meteorite had the shape of a truncated cone, convex like a cauldron at the bottom. The "divine palm print" claimed to have been perceived by the priest (read more in [1]) suggests the presence of regmaglypts. The oriented beauty then met an unfortunate end at the hands of a man who, "for unfair fate, came by with an iron pole, and together with other villagers, dug and pulled the stone breaking it." It was then taken away in various parts by the curious and uninitiated as indicated by the priest. Luigi Bombicci (1833-1903), renowned Professor of Mineralogy at the University of Bologna, also came to the site and took some samples (The Stevens Point Journal, 1883) [2].

While we do not know how Bombicci reacted to the destruction of the Alfianello meteorite, we learn from Agostini and Fioretti (2013) that he had another misfortune with the Trenzano meteorite, which had fallen on 12 November 1856 only a few kilometres away from the future Alfianello fall. In this case, the drama was of political nature at a time when the region was passing from Austrian rule (Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia) to a Pietmontese control. Despite this change, the management team of the Bologna university (or university of Brescia, TBD) apparently pushed Bombicci to sell a large piece of the Trenzano meteorite to an Austrian dealer already known of them, which angered the professor who found it unpatriotic and damaging to the Italian collection [3].

Figures: [1] Alfianello correspondence (D. Rabajoli - G. Gallia, 1883) | [2] Alfianello cut fragment (L. Bombicci / UBB, see label) | [3] Trenzano slice (IGMI)

Ordinary chondrite (L5-6)
Fell 3 February 1882
Cluj, Transylvania, Romania

Strewn field map of the Mocs meteorite shower produced by Prof. A. Koch, shown p. 126 of Koch (1882).

Summary coming later

Figures: [1] Article (Koch, 1882:strewn field map) | [2] Stone (UBB)

WANTED: UBB meteorite catalogues by Koch (1885) and Bedelean et al. (1979); Mocs stone 19th century Austrian models

Kernouve Cléguérec meteorite, Fils d'Emile Deyrolle dealership label, rue du Bac Paris, inventory number

Fell 22 May 1808
Jihomoravsky, Czech Republic

Stannern meteorite fragment deaccessioned from Harvard University (4.8 grams) and accompanied by an antique sketch (see right).

The first achondrite

On 22 May 1808, after a series of loud explosions, some 200-300 stones fell from the sky near Stannern in Czech Republic. The director of the Viennese Natural History Cabinet, Carl von Schreibers, reported on the meteorite fall in Gilberts Annalen der Physik. In 1809, the French chemist Vauquelin classfied it as a new type of stony meteorite, today known as achondrite (Brandstätter et al., 2012).

Figures: Fragment (Harvard - AVAILABLE) | Fragment and vial (UBB - AVAILABLE)

From Superstition to Scientific Acceptance (1492-1803)

Great Meteor 1783 Robinson mezzotint