METEORITICAL HISTORY

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Science  07 Feb 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5608, pp. 783
DOI: 10.1126/science.299.5608.783a

In 1766, Domenico Troili published a 120-page book about a stone in Villa Albareto, Italy. Eyewitnesses had reported a loud explosion, followed by whistling sounds as if a cannon had been fired. The stone, which looked fiery to some and dark and smoky to others, had fallen out of the sky and created a crater nearly a meter deep. The still-warm object was broken into pieces, which were kept by opportunistic villagers. Troili obtained some of the pieces and described a heavy, magnetic rock with rusty grains of iron sulfide (FeS), partially covered by what appeared to be a burnt and blackened crust. Troili concluded that it had been hurled skyward by a subterranean explosion.

By this time many observations of falls had been recorded, yet no one had made a connection between these fiery flying rocks and material from outer space; volcanism, lightning, or divine intervention were among the more plausible explanations of the time. Troili has been credited with explaining the origin of meteorites, as shown by a citation to him in 1863, at which point stoichiometric FeS, which is found only in meteorites, was renamed troilite.

Marvin and Cosmo argue that Ernst F. F. Chladni, who had compiled many observations of falls, determined, by calculating the velocities of meteors and fireballs, that these rock fragments originated from space, created by planet formation or planetary collisions. Chladni's seminal book of compilations and calculations was published in 1794, and he has been (and should continue to be) recognized for his risky and fundamentally correct explanation of the origin of meteorites. — LR

Meteorit. Planet. Sci. 37, 1857 (2002).

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