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The Ensisheim meteorite, France

In 1492, Europe was still emerging from the Middle Ages, so when this meteor streaked across the sky to land in a field in Alsace, everyone there for sure thought it was a sign from God.

Image: Conrad Andra, Wikimedia Commons

Image: Conrad Andra, Wikimedia Commons

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Spotted by a small boy in the nearby town of Ensisheim, it drew tons of people wishing to touch the supposedly holy relic (as well as chip off a piece of it for mementos), before the local authorities put a stop to it.

Incredibly, Maximilian I, co-ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, happened to be nearby, and went to see it (hey, wouldn’t you?). He had it taken to the nearby castle and, after consulting with his cohorts, declared it to be an omen, and that it would bring him luck in his wars against France and Turkey.

Although he was crowned sole ruler of the Holy Roman Empire the next year, his reign ended up being a mixed bag. But the date should be familiar to North Americans as the year Columbus landed in the Caribbean.

As for the stone itself, it’s on display in Ensisheim. 

Maximilian initially had it put in a local parish church, secured to the wall with iron crampons, presumably to prevent it from flying back up into the heavens unexpectedly (meteor science was, ah, a little patchy back then).

Didn’t stop visitors from chipping off the occasional piece over the centuries. The stone was an estimated 127 kg after impact, but it’s down to around 56 kg now. 

The Sudbury Basin, Ontario

If a mountain-sized meteor strikes Earth, whether we’re toast or blessed seems to depend on the timing.

Humanity wasn’t even close to being a twinkle in Evolution’s eye 1.8 billion years ago, when a space rock up to 20 km in size slammed into Northern Ontario, leaving a massive impact crater that is the world’s second largest.

It hit with what could have been a force as strong as billions of Hiroshimas, punching right through the Earth’s crust. The theory is that allowed bits of the metal-rich mantle to well up into the area, accounting for the huge deposits of nickel and copper that have made the region a byword for mineral wealth.

Known as the Sudbury Basin, the 65-kilometer crater lies within the city of Greater Sudbury.

The catastrophe may have held within it a greater gift: A shot in the arm for life on Earth. Research from last decade suggests the rock may have landed in an ocean, causing a tsunami a kilometre high and delivering huge quantities of oxygenated material, kicking the formation of life on Earth into overdrive.

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

The jury’s still out on that one. You can read a write-up of the theory at the Sudbury Star.

The One That Wiped Out the Dinosaurs

Everyone knows this one: The famous meteor that wiped out the mighty dinosaurs.

And it was a big one. Ten kilometres across, and hitting with the force of billions of tonnes of TNT, it kicked so much material up into the atmosphere it sparked a nuclear winter that lasted months or years.

The dinosaurs couldn’t handle it, dying in a drastically changed global landscape that would have also featured acid rain and world-wide wildfires – if they even survived the force of the impact.

That’s the lead theory, but if you have an image your head of dinosaurs thriving in a golden age of reptilia, that might not be accurate.

New evidence suggests the mass extinctions at the end of the Cretaceous era may actually have begun earlier than the impact, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of years earlier. Far from a species at its peak, the meteor may simply have been the nail in the coffin.

Another, less accepted theory is that the famous impact was hundreds of thousands of years too early – and another impact was what finished off the dinosaurs for good, whose crater has still never been found.

You can read up on that theory here, but whichever the final answer ends up being, the destructive power of the better-known meteor is certainly not in doubt.


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