Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 58.djvu/437

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429
THE STUDY OF METEORITES.

A CENTURY OF THE STUDY OF METEORITES.
By Dr. OLIVER C. FARRINGTON,

CURATOR OF GEOLOGY, FIELD COLUMBIAN MUSEUM.

THE close of the nineteenth century will mark the end of the first century of the study of meteorites. Up to the beginning of this century the attitude of scientific men toward the accounts of stones reported to have fallen from the sky was in general one of scorn and incredulity. Thus an account prepared with great care by the municipality of Juillac, France, telling of a stone shower which occurred there in July, 1790, was characterized by Berthelon at the time as "a recital, evidently false, of a phenomenon physically impossible" and "calculated to excite the pity not only of physicists but of all reasonable people." Bonn, in his Lithophylacium Bonnianum, refers to the Tabor, Bohemia, meteorite which fell in 1753, as "e coelo pluvisse creduliores quidam asseverant." Chladni, writing in the early part of the century, speaks of many meteorites which were thrown away in his day because the directors of museums were ashamed to exhibit stones reported to have fallen from the sky. President Jefferson when told that Professors Silliman and Kingsley had described a shower of stones as having taken place at Weston, Conn., in 1807, said: "It is easier to believe that two Yankee professors will lie than to believe that stones will fall from heaven."

The change of opinion on the part of intelligent and especially scientific men, which took place at the beginning of this century, was due largely to the investigation by the French Academy of the shower of stones which fell at L'Aigle in 1803. This investigation established so absolutely the fact of the fall to the earth at L'Aigle of stones from outer space that scientific men were logically compelled to give credence to the reports of similar occurrences elsewhere. Further, the papers of Chladni and Howard published about the same time, strenuously urging that other masses reported to have fallen upon the earth could not, because of their structure and composition, be of terrestrial origin, had much to do with fixing the growing faith that solid cosmic matter not of terrestrial origin does at intervals come to the earth. Since this beginning the study of meteorites has been one of constantly widening interest and purport.

The essentially distinguishing features of meteorites were early made out. Howard in 1802, from a chemical investigation of various "stony and metallic substances which at different times are said to have