Throughout history, meteors and meteorites have had an enormous impact (no pun intended. Ok, maybe a little intended) on people on Earth, on events on Earth, and even the Earth itself.
First, before this historical account begins, we need to have Meteors 101, how to tell the difference between meteors in all their forms. A meteoroid is a rock in space. They can be anywhere from the size of a grain of sand to the size of a house and much larger. A meteor is a meteoroid that has begun burning up in the atmosphere (also known as a shooting star). A meteorite is a meteor that did not burn completely in the atmosphere and has landed on Earth. A very large meteoroid is also known as an asteroid.
The meteorite that killed the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Period is believed to have landed on the Yucatan Peninsula. Molten rock from the impact would most likely have landed up to two hundred miles away from the impact site. Dust from the meteorite would have covered the Earth, blocking the Sun’s life-giving rays, and making the Earth’s surface cold (this is the same effect that nuclear winter would have). When the debris settled, a layer of iridium (a mineral found in very small quantities on Earth, but is highly common in meteoroids) rich soil covered the globe, settling between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods in the geological layers in Earth’s crust (the meteorite heralded the Tertiary Period). This layer is at its thickest nearby the enormous, almost imperceptible crater that is half on the Yucatan and half in the Caribbean.
The Black Stone in the sacred shrine in Mecca is said by Muslims to have been given to Adam when he was expelled from the Garden of Eden. It is supposed to have been of the purest white then, but has turned black over the centuries by the sins of those who have kissed it. Scientists believe that this stone is a meteorite, but because of its religious significance, it has not been tested, nor is it ever expected to be tested.
Emperor Constantine was Pagan, but in a time of battle and in desperation, he prayed to the Christian God. Right after his prayer, he saw a meteor in the sky. Constantine took this to be a sign from God and an answer to his prayers. He won his battle. Now, Constantine is credited with spreading Christianity as a mainstream religion across the Western World.
A meteor was first seen in the sky and then recovered in the 1400’s, when a twelve-year-old boy saw one in the small town of Ensisheim, Alsace. Soon after, Archduke (at the time) Maximilian 1 came through the town on his way to battle. He heard of the meteorite and took it as a sign from God that he would win his battle. He did win, and even now, the small town considers the meteorite to be its most treasured possession. They have a group called the Brotherhood of St. George of the Meteorite that protects the meteorite and takes it to a yearly Weighing of the Meteorite ceremony.
One of the most famous meteorite impacts happened during the morning of June 30th, 1908. The meteor actually exploded three to six miles above Earth’s surface, but is still referred to as an impact. It exploded with an estimate 10-20 megatons of TNT-over 1,000 times the strength of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb. If this meteor had been almost anywhere else in the world, there would have been at least one city destroyed.
The only evidence of an impact with a meteor is high quantities of Iridium and nickel-iron in the soil. The lack of any other evidence has led to some wild theories, including black holes and UFOs.
The biggest impact a meteor or comet may have had on Earth is known in the scientific community as Panspermia, a theory that life was brought to Earth in the organic particles that could be in comets and meteoroids. One example of this may be found in the Venus Flytrap, which lives naturally in a one hundred square mile area on the North Carolina-South Carolina border, is one of only a few carnivorous plants, is one of only a few plants capable of fast movement, and the only one capable of both.
The impact of meteors have affected our existence for millennia, and will continue to affect us until the end of our reign on Planet Earth. Indeed, a meteorite may be the cause of our demise.