Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 69.djvu/25

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21
COLLECTION OF METEORITES
THE LARGEST AMERICAN COLLECTION OF METEORITES.
By L. P. GRATACAP, A.M.,
AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY.

IT requires very little imagination to picture to our eyes the astonishment of the inhabitants of the older portions of the earth at the fall of meteorites in days before scientific knowledge had reduced them to ordinary phenomena. What could be better calculated to excite admiration and reverence than a luminous missile suddenly passing athwart the sky, accompanied by detonations, and almost simultaneously reaching the ground? Was it remarkable that superstition quickly enclosed them in its mesh of fable and fancy? Believing that the gods were accustomed to descend upon the earth, these visible apparitions of flame might not unnaturally seem to them the vehicles, or at least the portents, of their descent.

In fact, a series of interesting medals or coins struck off to commemorate these unusual visitations has been found amongst Roman and Grecian antiquities, which have been styled 'Betyl Medals,' from a supposed reference to the Hebrew 'El Bethel,' the house of God, thus implying that the meteorite was indeed, by contemporaries, regarded as a supernatural object.

Science and observation have long ago determined their cosmic nature, and while opinions may still vary as to their exact origin, their actual constitution is well understood, and their source, in extraterrestrial streams of moving matter, recognized.

These strange objects have not diminished in interest because their miraculous origin has become a myth. On the contrary, science, by its exhaustive research, has placed them in the very front rank of objects that excite most vividly the imagination of the investigator. When science, in a perfectly rational way, speculates upon the possibility of one of these celestial visitors having passed through stellar space at measureless distances from our planet, exposed to inconceivable degrees of cold, and again at another time and place in its long transit to have encountered the most intense heat in the neighborhood of the sun, it requires little more suggestion to make it clear why they are to-day placed amongst the most prized specimens in mineralogical collections. The little further suggestion required to awaken the lay mind to a vivid realization of their interest is contained in the modern conception of their origin in dismembered comets, or even disrupted worlds.

Museums and individual collectors have vied with each other in