Center for Meteorite Studies

Pultusk is an H5 chondrite that fell January 30, 1868, near the town of Pultusk in northeastern Poland. 

One of the largest meteorite showers in recorded history at the time, the fall is said to have produced tens of thousands of stones, and over 250 kg of material was recovered.  The Center for Meteorite Studies houses over 100 of these meteorites; most are fully fusion-crusted individuals, ranging in size from 1-1/3 pounds to tiny pea-sized stones.

In an 1868 publication*, Professor J.G. Galle, Director of the Breslau Observatory, detailed the accounts of witnesses to the fall, including the contents of a letter sent to Warsaw with the then largest recovered piece of the Pultusk meteorite (10 lbs):

"On January 30, at 7:00 in the evening, at Makoff, 11 miles from Warsaw and near Pultusk, a terrible phenomenon occurred.  The sky was clear; the thermometer read -9o. Two beautiful stars were near the Moon.  Suddenly, a large number of sparks streamed from one of these stars.  thereafter, it grew very dark for about 10 seconds; then one saw a large, dazzlingly bright light, similar to the light of a Bengal Fire [fireworks display].  The inhabitants of the place emerged from their houses, since each believed that his own house was on fire . . .  an uncommonly loud sound was heard, the same as if a cannon had been fired, a thunder-like-rolling lasting for several minutes, and a very peculiar roaring and rattling.  People conjectured immediately that a fall of stones had occurred.  They searched for meteorites and found some, but most of them, probably, fell into the Narew River."

Galle was the first to correctly identify the planet Neptune based on telescopic observation, and is the namesake of the main-belt asteroid 2097 Galle.  His research on the Pultusk meteorite focussed on the chondrite's entry into Earth's atmosphere, and the effects of meteorite break-up and subsequent stone scattering on the determination of the meteorite's original entry angle.

In 1999, the Republic of Mali included the Pultusk meteorite on a stamp, paired with the Krakatoa volcano.  In 2006, Pultusk was featured on a limited edition silver $5 coin issued in the Cook Islands, which included a small, embedded piece of the meteorite.

 

*Ueber die Bahn des am 30. Januar 1868 beobachteten und bei Pultusk im Königreiche Polen als Steinregen niedergefallenen Meteors durch die Atmosphäre. Vom Professor Dr. C. G. Galle, Direktor der Sterwarte zu Breslau. Vorgetragen am 4. März u. s. w. Besonderer Abdruck aus den Abhandlungen der Schlesischen Gesellschaft für vaterländische Cultur. Breslau, 1868. Translated to English by Walter H. Haas (Griffith Observatory), and published in Popular Astronomy in 1944 (Vol. 52, pp. 43-47)


Category: Meteorites

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