Meteor impacts Ensisheim 529 years ago in oldest recorded impact

Publication Date07 November 2021
Now known as the Ensisheim meteorite, the object crashed into the ground outside Ensisheim in the Alsace region, forming an approximately 1-meter deep impact crater. No one was hurt in the impact, which was said to be witnessed by just a young boy, but word soon spread throughout the city.

The meteor itself weighed 127 kilograms and was classified as an ordinary chondrite, the most common type of meteor. This classification means it is stony in composition and was never modified before breaking off from its parent asteroid. There are tens of thousands of known meteorites of this type, so in theory, the Ensisheim meteorite itself shouldn't stand out too much.

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But what makes this meteorite so significant is not just that it impacted and that its impact was recorded, but the influence it had on subsequent historic events.

The meteorite quickly became seen as a divine omen, though the exact meaning was unclear at the time. Regardless, it was instantly seen as something divine, which had caused the people of Ensisheim to quickly begin breaking parts off to be used as good luck charms - though the local chief magistrate quickly put a stop to it, hauling it to the local parish church.

The meaning of the omen was soon solidified later in the month, when Maximilian I, then the king of the Romans and who later became Holy Roman emperor, arrived in Enshisheim. Maximilian was on his way to battle the French but had become fascinated by the stone. He and his advisers soon declared it a holy omen, signifying God's favor of Maximilian. This was helped by the shape of the meteor, described by many as being triangular, much like the Greek letter Delta, which was compared to the sign of the Holy Trinity.

The story of the meteor soon spread throughout Europe. This was due in part to two reasons. One of them was the sheer volume of the meteorite's impact, with contemporary sources indicating that it had been heard at least 100 miles away, as noted in a 1992 academic article.

But even more important was that it was printed and spread. The impact was the first known meteorite impact following the rise of the printing press. As such, detailed news was able to spread quickly. Before long, news spread in several cities through the help of broadsheets containing the writings of poet Sebastian Brant regarding the impact, as well as dramatic...

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