Seven Unusual Celestial Visitors: Meteorites with Fascinating Backstories

By John A February 26, 2024

It’s a little-known fact that the Earth is bombarded by meteoroids on a daily basis, with an average of 17 making their fiery descent each day. Most of these cosmic visitors disintegrate in our atmosphere, harmlessly blazing away as meteors. But on rare occasions, they survive their atmospheric journey to become meteorites upon impacting the Earth’s surface.

These celestial remnants carry with them a myriad of strange tales and historical anecdotes. Below are seven of the most intriguing meteorite incidents known to mankind.

image credit: Vadim Sadovski / Shutterstock

The Divine Signal of Ensisheim (1492)
When a colossal fireball descended upon a field near Ensisheim in what is now France, King Maximilian interpreted this event as a divine signal of support for his military campaign against Flemish insurgents. The monarch and his spiritual advisers promptly secured the heavenly stone within a church, anchoring it with chains to prevent its return to the skies, symbolizing a divine endorsement of his cause. Following his victory over the rebels, Maximilian credited his success to this celestial favor, though he humorously acknowledged the limits of human efforts against divine will.

Esquel: A Jewel Among Stones
While most meteorites are found as burnt and fractured relics, the Esquel meteorite distinguishes itself with its internal beauty. Discovered in Argentina in 1951, this unique specimen is a blend of silicates and meteoric iron, richly inlaid with sparkling olivine crystals or peridots, making it a cosmic gemstone unlike any other. Portions of this dazzling 1,500-pound space rock are now showcased in museums worldwide, mesmerizing visitors with their extraterrestrial allure.

Almahata Sitta: The Predicted Visitor
The Almahata Sitta meteorite made history in 2008 as the first meteorite tracked from space to Earth, thanks to the vigilance of the Catalina Sky Survey. This enabled scientists to predict its landing in Sudan’s Nubian desert, where they later recovered 35 pounds of its fragments for study. This event marked a significant milestone in the intersection of astronomy and geology.

The El Ali Discovery
In 2020, the El Ali meteorite found in Somalia surprised scientists with its composition, containing two minerals previously unknown in natural form on Earth, although they had been synthetically produced in the 1980s. This discovery emphasized the meteorite’s alien origins and contributed to our understanding of cosmic materials.

The Peekskill Meteorite Encounter (1992)
Michelle Knapp of Peekskill, New York, experienced the shock of her life when a meteorite punctured the trunk of her Chevrolet Malibu. This event, while initially seeming unfortunate, turned into a stroke of luck as the damaged car became a sought-after collectible, earning Knapp a significant profit from its sale, highlighting the unexpected value that can arise from cosmic incidents.

The Tragic Tale of the Venezuelan Cow (1972)
Not all encounters with meteorites are fortuitous, as demonstrated by an unfortunate incident in Venezuela where a cow met its end due to a meteorite impact. The farmhands found the animal alongside the celestial rock, which later served a new purpose as a doorstop, a grim reminder of the unpredictable nature of meteorites.

The Sulaymaniyah Tragedy (1888)
The incident in Sulaymaniyah, Turkey, remains the only documented case where a meteorite impact directly resulted in human fatalities. Witnesses reported a fiery explosion that showered the village with stone fragments, resulting in the death and paralysis of two individuals. This tragic event underscores the real, albeit rare, dangers associated with meteorite impacts on Earth.

image credit: Vadim Sadovski / Unsplash

These stories exemplify the diverse and often unexpected ways in which humanity intersects with the remnants of our solar system’s history, offering insights, wonders, and sometimes cautionary tales from our celestial neighbors.