Newly Uncovered Documents Date First-Ever Death By Meteorite Back to 1888

An unlikely cause of death, streaking through the sky.
An unlikely cause of death, streaking through the sky.
NASA/Getty Images

Most meteors burn up in the atmosphere before hitting Earth, but those that do survive their fiery descent can have disastrous consequences. Meteorites have destroyed a car, a mailbox, and a fishing boat. In 1888, a falling meteorite hit a person, marking the earliest known death by space rock, according to Science.

The incident was recorded in documents recently uncovered from the Turkish state archives and reported in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science. In 1888, local authorities described several meteorites landing in what's now Iraq and wreaking havoc on the area. One meteorite reportedly left one man dead and another paralyzed. According to the documents, fields and crops were also destroyed by the event. The writing suggests a chunk of the deadly meteorite once accompanied one of the letters. If this still exists, the researchers who uncovered the historical documents haven't been able to locate it.

The meteorite shower was likely big news at the time. The researchers found evidence of reports of a fireball spotted above a nearby city from the same period. Abdul Hamid II, the 34th sultan of the Ottoman Empire, was even notified of the disaster.

In modern history, reports of meteorites striking people are still incredibly rare. For decades, the only person known to have been hit by a meteorite was Anne Hodges, who had the unfortunate experience of being woken up from a nap when one punched a hole in her roof, bounced off a radio, and then hit her in 1954.

[h/t Science]

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Don't Miss Saturn And Jupiter's Great Conjunction on the Winter Solstice

Paul Williams, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Paul Williams, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

In 2020, skygazers were treated to meteor showers, a new comet, and a Halloween blue moon. One of the last major astronomical events of the year is set to fall on the night of the winter solstice. On December 21, look up to catch Saturn in conjunction with Jupiter.

What is the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter?

In astronomy, a conjunction occurs when two planets appear exceptionally close in the night sky. Two of our solar system's gas giants will share a celestial "kiss" on the longest night of the year. The rare meeting of Saturn and Jupiter is known as the "great conjunction" by astronomers.

Though conjunctions between the planets are fairly common, Saturn and Jupiter only get together once in a generation. Their last conjunction happened 20 years ago in the year 2000. Even if you were around for the last one, 2020's planetary meet-up is worth catching. Saturn and Jupiter will come within 0.1° of each other, or about one-fifth the width of a full moon. The last time the two planets came that close was in 1653, and they won't match that proximity again until 2080.

How to see the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter

Saturn and Jupiter have been inching closer throughout October and November. You can find them now by looking for Jupiter, currently the brightest planet in the night sky, right after sunset. Saturn will appear just east of Jupiter as a dimmer planet with a golden hue.

As autumn wanes, the two planets will gradually bridge the space between them until they reach conjunction on winter solstice. On Monday, December 21, the planets will be so close that they may form a coalescence. That happens when the light from two planets appear to shine as a single star. When that happens, the super-bright body will be easy to spot.