Thursday, November 4, 2010

Recently Discovered Letter Sheds Light on 1858 Ausson Meteorite Fall

The 2000 edition of the Catalogue of Meteorites mentions the following about the Ausson meteorite fall, which occurred on December 9, 1858:

Two stones, weighing about 9 kg and 41 kg, respectively, fell, the first near Ausson and the other near Clarac, about 3 miles distant.    

The same information is included in the 1985 fourth edition of the Catalogue, and both editions cite F. Petit’s communication that was published in Comptes Rendus 47 (1858), 1053-1055, as the source of the information. 

However, if you check the original paper, Petit said the exact opposite — the larger stone fell at Ausson —  not Clarac. 

His report mentions that M. Fourment, a professor at the Petit Séminaire de Polignan, helped remove the Ausson stone from the ground, which weighed about 40 to 45 kilograms. According to Petit, M. Fourment told him that the stone which fell at Clarac weighed about 8 to 10 kilograms.

I sent an inquiry to the Academy of Sciences in Paris to see if they had a letter from M. Fourment describing the fall. The Academy often has the original manuscript material mentioned in Comptes Rendus, but although there are two letters from M. Petit in the archives, there is no letter from M. Fourment.

At the present time, there seems to be only one letter from M. Fourment in existence anywhere in the world discussing the Ausson fall   —  it is in my autograph collection, the gem of the lot.

The 3-page letter was found in a folder containing other documents addressed to Emilien Dumas, the French geologist and paleontologist, and is dated February 14, 1859, about two months after the fall.  Fourment sent his correspondent, presumably Dumas, samples of Ausson, but the latter wanted samples of the Clarac stone as well. 

Unfortunately, M. Fourment indicated these was nearly impossible to get — the Ausson stone was larger, weighing about 4 to 5 times more, so there were very few samples of Clarac available.  He told his correspondent that based on the appearance of the Ausson stone, the Clarac stone seems to have separated from it, and other than having a darker crust, appears to have been essentially the same.

Thus the letter supports M. Petit’s report that the larger stone fell at Ausson.

Apparently Dumas was quite a collector, and his geological collection ended up at the Natural History Museum in Nîmes. I sent an inquiry to the Museum about the collection the other day, and I am still awaiting a response. If anyone knows the curator, please contact me. It is quite possible that the Museum archives might have other correspondence between Dumas and Fourment.

Below are a few images from the letter, which I hope you enjoy.


Figure 1:  Letter dated February 14, 1859, about 2 months after the fall (Copyright © M. I. Grossman).

Figure 2:  Mention that meteorite found in surroundings of Polignan weighed 4 to 5 times more than Clarac stone, which appeared to have separated from the Ausson stone (Copyright © M. I. Grossman).

Figure 3:  M. Fourment’s signature on the letter, which may be his only correspondence in existence about the fall (Copyright © M. I. Grossman).

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