Friday, February 15, 2013

Meteorites & Asteroids

Today, we've had two astounding stories about near-Earth objects. I think people often forget that our planet is racing through space where there are asteroids and other objects which could fall to Earth should we come within a given distance. Luckily for us, Earth is mainly ocean, and large portions of it are uninhabited, so most meteorites do not injure anyone.

NASA is reporting, somewhat surprisingly, that the meteor in Chelyabinsk, Russia, which impacted at 3:20:26 UTC on Feb. 15, whose explosion injured hundreds, is not related to asteroid 2012 DA14 which is flying by the Earth (at a distance less than that to our Moon and even geostationary satellites - you can watch their live reporting of asteroid 2012 DA14 here). The trajectories are quite different. The Russia meteor is the largest reported since 1908, when a meteor hit Tunguska, Siberia.

As you can imagine, such events have inspired awe and art over human history. I've rounded up a few notable examples of art inspired by asteroids, meteors, meteor showers and other near-Earth objects.

The image may be the Ancient Chinese Book Zhushu Jinian (known as the Bamboo Annals, a historical chronicle of the history of ancient China, spanning ca. 2400 to 299 BCE). It is claimed to contain details of comets, fireballs, and especially planetary conjunctions, though some feel this may be a more recent forgery.

This woodcut illustrates a 127 kg meteorite which impacted a wheat field near the village of Ensisheim in the province of Alsace, France, which at the time was part of Germany, on November 7, 1492 after a loud explosion. A young boy who witnessed this lead the villagers to the 1 m deep impact crater and they recovered the meteorite (though much of it has been chipped away by the supersticious over the last 500 years).

This print about meteors is from 1692 Hungary.

The Leonid shower of November 1833, is condsidered by some to be the greatest astronomical spectacle in recorded history. People witnessed countless meteors for nights on end; many flocked to churches fearing Judgement Day. There are many contemporary depictions.

This illustration from Harper's Weekly shows a 1860 meteor which inspired Walt Whitman's Year of Meteors 1859 '60

YEAR of meteors! brooding year!
I would bind in words retrospective, some of your deeds and signs;
I would sing your contest for the 19th Presidentiad;
I would sing how an old man, tall, with white hair, mounted the scaffold in Virginia;
(I was at hand—silent I stood, with teeth shut close—I watch’d;
I stood very near you, old man, when cool and indifferent, but trembling with age and your unheal’d wounds, you mounted the scaffold;)
—I would sing in my copious song your census returns of The States,
The tables of population and products—I would sing of your ships and their cargoes,
The proud black ships of Manhattan, arriving, some fill’d with immigrants, some from the isthmus with cargoes of gold;
Songs thereof would I sing—to all that hitherward comes would I welcome give;
And you would I sing, fair stripling! welcome to you from me, sweet boy of England!
Remember you surging Manhattan’s crowds, as you pass’d with your cortege of nobles?
There in the crowds stood I, and singled you out with attachment;
I know not why, but I loved you... (and so go forth little song,
Far over sea speed like an arrow, carrying my love all folded,
And find in his palace the youth I love, and drop these lines at his feet;)
—Nor forget I to sing of the wonder, the ship as she swam up my bay,
Well-shaped and stately the Great Eastern swam up my bay, she was 600 feet long,
Her, moving swiftly, surrounded by myriads of small craft, I forget not to sing;
—Nor the comet that came unannounced out of the north, flaring in heaven;
Nor the strange huge meteor procession, dazzling and clear, shooting over our heads,
(A moment, a moment long, it sail’d its balls of unearthly light over our heads,
Then departed, dropt in the night, and was gone;)
—Of such, and fitful as they, I sing—with gleams from them would I gleam and patch these chants;
Your chants, O year all mottled with evil and good! year of forebodings! year of the youth I love!
Year of comets and meteors transient and strange!—lo! even here, one equally transient and strange!
As I flit through you hastily, soon to fall and be gone, what is this book,
What am I myself but one of your meteors?


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Thanks Katherine! I've been collecting what we might call historical scientific visualizations. :)



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