After spending the last two posts in Alabama and Italy, for the next installment of ‘On this day…’ we’re going to Wold Cottage Farm, in Yorkshire which was the site of the Wold Cottage meteorite impact way back in 1795!
According to records, the stone fell at around 3pm on the 13th December and created a crater approximately 0.91m across. It implanted itself in the local underlying chalk to a depth of 7 inches. Locals who saw the fall described it as ‘a dark body’ passing through the air with accompanying explosions and there were reports that the landing point was warm and smoking.
Fortuitously (for the purpose of record), the meteorite fell on land owned by Major Edward Topham, a well known public figure and newspaper proprietor who helped to publicise the find and exhibited the meteorite to the public just down the road from Geology Towers at Piccadilly in London! Its history of ownership passed to the naturalist James Sowerby who made a beautiful engraving of the sample, and was later acquired by the Natural History Museum in London where it can be seen now.
Recording the incident at the time, Mr Topham wrote:
All these witnesses who saw it fall, agree perfectly in their account of the manner of its fall, and that they saw a dark body passing through the air, and ultimately strike the ground: and though, from their situations and characters in life, they could have no possible object in detailing a false account of this transaction, I felt so compelled to give this matter every degree of authenticity that, as a magistrate, I took their account upon oath immediately on my return into the country. I saw no reason to doubt any of their evidence after the most minute investigation of it.
At the time, following the ridiculing of German physicist Ernst Chladni who suggested that stones fell from the sky, the preferred theory to explain meteorites was that they had been blasted into the air by volcanoes, but since there were no volcanoes in Yorkshire, this was quite difficult to reconcile! The eminent scientist Joseph Banks started to doubt this theory and he commissioned a worldwide comparison of stones from the sky which led to the observation that these rocks were similar to each other but could not be found on earth.
Analysis and Composition
Early work on two parts of the specimen, the ‘earthy’ part and the ‘malleable’ part found that the earthy part was similar to Kaolin but relatively tough, while the malleable parts also contained iron and nickel. Modern scientific analysis has recorded the specimen as an L6 ordinary chondrite. It is still the largest meteorite observed to fall in Britain and the second largest in Europe.
The location of where the meteorite landing is now marked by an obelisk, erected by Mr Topham on the exact spot where it fell. There is an inscription on the obelisk that reads
On this spot, December 13, 1795
Fell from the atmosphere
An extraordinary stone.
In breadth twenty-eight inches
In length thirty-six inches,
Whose weight was fifty-six pounds.
In memory of it
Was erected by
Did you know…
This meteorite inspired a body of science fiction literature, in part due to the fact Mr Topham was a poet and writer. For more information on this unusual spin-off, see this article on the BBC website where they interview Scott Eckert, an American author and expert on the subject.
The stakes remain high as we approach the second geoadvent weekend. Sue Grieg was first past the post yesterday, correctly identifying Hunstanton Cliffs – voted the People’s Favourite in our Coastal category.
Which means the points are now 3 points to Chris Jack, with Clark Fenton, Marie and Sue both on 2. Rallish and Martin Heys bring up the rear on 1 each…Remember, the Ultimate Geoadvent prize is at stake, including one of our fabled rock hammer USB sticks!