Saturday, January 8, 2011

Father Joseph Stepling and the Tabor Meteorite Fall

Recently there were some posts on the metlist about the lack of contemporary documentation on the Tabor meteorite fall.  Martin Altmann noted that astronomer Joseph Stepling (1716-1778) described the 1753 event in the following publication issued in 1754:

De pluvia lapidea anni MDCCLIII ad Strkov pagum uno milliari Taborio Bohemiae urbe dissitum, et ejus causis meditatio, Pragae 1754

Martin translated the title as:  On the stone rain of the year 1753 at the village Strkov, situated one mile away from the Bohemian town Tabor, and thoughts about its causes.

I posted a message to the list that J. G. Burke referenced the Journal Book of the Royal Society of London (1754-1757), XXII, 290-300 for the Tabor fall.  On page 35 of his book Cosmic Debris (University of California Press, 1986), Burke mentions that Father Joseph Stepling’s report was read before the Royal Society on February 26, 1756 and was accepted without discussion.  Ursula Marvin repeats Burke’s reference in ‘Meteorites in history’, in The history of meteoritics and key meteorite collections: fireballs, falls and finds (eds. G. J. H. McCall, A. J. Bowden and R. J. Howarth), p. 31 (Geological Society, London, 2006).

Two questions arose.  First, where could a copy of Stepling’s 1754 book be obtained, and second, what was the Journal Book of the Royal Society?  I was familiar with the Society’s Philosophical Transactions, but not with the JBRS.

Regarding the location of the book, I made some inquiries, and Robert van Gent, a Dutch historian of astronomy, responded that a search of the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog KVK site indicated that the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin reportedly had a copy.  I repeated the search, and indeed the Berlin State Library has a listing for the 79 page book.  However, Robert van Gent noted that the Library may have suffered losses during World War II, and it is possible that the book is no longer present despite being listed, but there may be some copies in Czechoslovakian libraries that were not picked up by the KVK search. 

If anyone has easy access to the Berlin State Library and can take a quick look to see if Stepling’s book is present, I am sure I can speak for all of the blog readers, as well as myself, that any information would be most appreciated. Let me know, and I will be happy to post any news about the volume.

Now, about the second item — the quite intriguing Journal Book of the Royal Society — this required a visit to the Royal Society in London, virtually speaking, and what I found out was fascinating, to say the least. You see…..

But wait… I better save this for the next post!


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