A meteorite killed a man in Iraq in 1888, historic records suggest


EXCERPT: On August 10, 1888, at around 8:30 p.m., a bright fireball lit up the skies above a mountain village in the Kurdistan Region near modern-day Sulaymaniyah, Iraq. The fireball carried a trail of “smoke” as it passed toward a neighboring village. Then, it exploded overhead, leveling crops and raining stones for 10 minutes on a “pyramid-shaped” hill below. The falling debris killed one man and paralyzed another.

A group of scientists, two in Turkey and one in the U.S., recently found this account in newly digitized archives of the Ottoman Empire. The caliphate, which ruled large parts of Europe, Asia and Africa between the 14th and 20th centuries, was known for keeping meticulous records. And the documents' recent digitization makes them more accessible than ever. The researchers published their findings April 22 in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science.

[...] The accounts of the 1888 event are compelling because they were written by local high-ranking officials, including the regional governor, and forwarded to the sultan. Furthermore, they suggest that stony fragments were recovered from the impact site and mailed in to the central government. Unsalan and his team have looked for the would-be meteorites in area museums and archives, but have so far come up empty-handed. Those potential space rocks could be lost in a museum collection now.

The authors say this is the oldest known meteorite death in recorded history because no other purported incident can claim to have both a trustworthy historical record and a sample fragment from the site. However, it’s important to reiterate that the researchers have not been able to recover or confirm that the stony fragments supposedly collected after the 1888 event were, in fact, of extraterrestrial origin.

[...] there’s never been a proven death by meteorite, despite widespread acceptance that it has probably happened before. Absolute proof is hard to find. Perhaps the closest confirmation in history is the famous Tunguska event in Siberia in 1908, in which historical accounts suggest at least one person was killed by an air blast. But scientists never found fragments from the exploded space rock, so nobody ever studied the meteoritic material that rained down.

[...] For decades, researchers have searched for and debated historical claims of people and animals that might have died in impacts. For example, on September 14, 1511, a monk and several animals were said to have been killed in Lombardy, Italy, after more than 100 pounds of space rocks fell. And Chinese records say that 10 people were killed by a large shooting star that fell on a rebel camp on January 14, 616... (MORE - details)

RELATED: Some interesting meteorite falls of the last two centuries (International Comet Quarterly)

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