Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/380

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366
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

A TALK ABOUT METEORITES.
By OLIVER WHIPPLE HUNTINGTON, Ph. D.,

INSTRUCTOR IN MINERALOGY AND CHEMISTRY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY.

METEORITES are particularly interesting because they comprise the only material coming to us from outer space. In consequence of the striking phenomena resulting from their rapid passage through our atmosphere, making them appear like balls of fire visible at great distances, sometimes exploding with such violence as to be taken for earthquakes, their falls have been noticed and recorded since the earliest times. The accounts, however, were so imbued with superstitions, and so distorted by the terrified condition of the narrators, that in most cases the witnesses of the event were laughed at for their supposed delusions, and it was not till the beginning of the present century that men of science and people in general began to give credit to such reports.

The earliest authentic records of stones falling from the sky are to be found in the Chinese annals, which go back to 644 b. c., and between that time and 333 a. d. Biot has traced sixteen distinct occurrences. In Europe, a meteorite is said to have fallen in Crete as far back as 1478 b. c., but Greek history can not be depended upon for events earlier than 700 b. c. A more probable fall, in 705 b. c., is mentioned by Plutarch; while Livy, in his History of Rome, gives an account of a shower of stones which fell on the Alban Mount about 652 b. c., and which so impressed the senate that they decreed a nine days' solemn festival. Again, in 466 b. c., a stone fell at Ægospotamos, in Thrace, which is mentioned in the Parian Marbles, and also by Plutarch and Pliny, which is said to have been of the size of two mill-stones, and equal in weight to a full wagon-load. Still more famous was the meteorite which fell 204 b. c. in Phrygia, described as conical in shape, of a deep-brown color, and looking like a piece of lava, and so pointed at the top that it was called the "needle" of Cybele. This stone was believed to have fallen from heaven, and was worshiped at Pessinus by the Phrygians and Phœnicians as the Great Mother of the Gods. At the time of the second Punic war, upon the announcement by an oracle that its possession would secure continued prosperity to the state, it was demanded from King Attalus and taken with great ceremony to Rome, where it was mounted on a silver statue of the goddess in place of the head. Signor Lanciani has traced its existence down to 1730. It was then finally lost sight of, but he thinks it may still exist, buried in the ruins of the Palace of the Cæsars. The Diana of the Ephesians, "which fell down from Jupiter," and