Way Back When ... 1807
At approximately 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 14, 1807, residents of Fairfield County were startled by the sight of a blazing fireball in the early morning sky, followed by the terrifying sound of three loud explosions that could be heard as far as 40 miles away, according to Today in Connecticut History, a collaboration between the Office of the State Historian and Connecticut Humanities with support from the Sue B. Hart Foundation.
After the sun rose, strange rocks could be found on the ground in several towns, from modern-day Monroe southward to Fairfield.
Within a few days, news of the phenomenon had reached Benjamin Silliman, professor of chemistry and natural science at Yale College in New Haven, and his colleague James Kingsley. The two professors promptly arranged a trip to Fairfield County to interview as many eyewitnesses as possible and to collect whatever samples they could.
To their dismay, they found that many residents who had collected fragments of the meteorite had smashed them to pieces, thinking they contained gold, silver, or other precious metals. Still, Silliman and Kingsley were able to gather a significant number of small meteorite fragments themselves before returning to Yale. There, they performed the first known scientific analysis of a meteorite in North America, running a series of chemical tests to prove that the meteorites contained iron and were distinctly different in chemical makeup from any known terrestrial rock.
Silliman and Kingsley published an exhaustive report compiling eyewitness accounts of the falling meteorite and their own scientific observations in the Dec. 29 edition of the Connecticut Herald — an article that was soon reprinted by newspapers throughout the nation. In 1808, Silliman published an even more detailed report on his scientific analyses of the meteorite in the journal of the American Philosophical Society, and has been credited ever since as the father of American meteoritics (the study of meteors and meteorites).
Silliman’s personal collection of meteorites, gathered over the course of his lifetime, formed the foundation of the extensive meteorite collection showcased at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, where the largest remaining fragment of the Weston Meteorite now sits on display. Another sizable piece can be found at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
A brilliant display in the night sky led to several brilliant advances in the field of natural science.
The year meteorites fell from the sky into several towns within Fairfield County.