On December 14, 1807, astonished witnesses watched a giant fireball blaze across the sky. Three sonic booms erupted. Then rocks fell from the air. How did the Weston Meteorite change the world?
What was the Weston Meteorite?
It might be hard to imagine but meteorite science was practically non-existent in the 1800s. Sure, people had seen meteors for centuries. But they were poorly understood and hardly ever connected to odd stories of falling rocks. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1800s that scientists began to realize these falling rocks were quite different from the ones normally found on the ground.
Within a few days of December 14, Benjamin Silliman and James L. Kingsley traveled to Weston, Connecticut to investigate the phenomenon. They interviewed witnesses and gathered and analyzed specimens. It wasn’t easy. They only managed to find 15% of the meteorite rocks. Many others disappeared into the hands of residents who proceeded to crack them open.
“Strongly impressed with the idea that these stones contained gold and silver, they subjected them to all the tortures of ancient alchemy, and the goldsmith’s crucible, the forge, and the blacksmith’s anvil, were employed in vain to elicit riches which existed only in the imagination.” ~ Benjamin Silliman and James L. Kingsley, Account of a Meteor
After Silliman and Kingsley published their account, the story caught fire. It was reprinted in multiple journals. Their words were read before the American Philosophical Society, the Philosophical Society of London, and the Academy of Sciences in Paris. Still, not everyone was a believer.
“I would more easily believe that (a) Yankee professor would lie than that stones would fall from heaven.” ~ Thomas Jefferson
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
However, Silliman continued to think meteorite rocks had a cosmic origin. He taught this to his students, paving the way for meteorite science in the United States. One of his students, Denison Olmstead, went on to study the famous Leonid meteor storm of November 1833. That storm, witnessed by people all over the eastern United States, was a turning point for meteorite science. But the foundation had been laid decades earlier, thanks to the groundbreaking work done by Benjamin Silliman and James L. Kingsley.
“In Europe I had become acquainted with meteorites and the phenomena that usually attend their fall…. I did not dream of being favored by an event of this kind in my own vicinity and occurring on a scale truly magnificent.” ~ Benjamin Silliman, Life of Benjamin Silliman