Stone Worth of 75 Roubles Predicted Outcome of the Battle of Borodino
This year's most giant and fastest asteroid is headed towards Earth, approaching it shortly. On March 21, it will reach its closest distance to our planet. NASA experts inform the meteorite being a potentially hazardous object.
Just a week before, on March 14, the International Day of Planetariums was celebrated. First held in Italy in 1991, it went international in 1995, with many countries recognising it as a holiday, Russia among them. Stories about asteroids and other space objects have long been associated with mysticism and paranormal phenomena, which explains their frenzied popularity.
For instance, comets caused panic. Unlike meteorites, comets do not pose a danger; they are nothing but a cloud of dust and gas. Yet their spectacular form with a tail reaching up to several million kilometres in length created plenty of superstitions.
Back in 530, John Malalas, a Byzantine historian and chronicler, wrote:
"A great, terrifying star appeared in the west, from which a white light soared up, and lightning came. Some called it a torch. It shone for twenty days, and there was a drought. In cities, people were murdered, and many other terrible events took place."
In William Shakespeare's tragedy, Julius Caesar's wife Calpurnia tried to forewarn her husband of the attempt on his life. She says: "When beggars die, there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes".
In contrast, sane and adequate people, who could apprehend what was happening, were rare. "This hairy star does not concern me. It is an omen for the king of the Persians… For he has long hair, whereas I am bald," declared the Roman emperor Vespasian in 79 on seeing yet another heavenly body.
Superstitious beliefs are not easy to get rid of, though. Many are convinced that comets bring all sorts of calamities, wars, and deaths of leaders.
For example, Halley's Comet, orbiting around the Sun and visible from Earth every 75–76 years, has been observed since at least 240 BC. The first reliable description of Halley is provided in the work of Sima Qian, a Chinese historian. The comet is also mentioned in the Bible - the First and Second Books of Maccabees and Chapters 9-12 in the Book of Daniel. Virtually every time Halley was seen - whether in one state or another - it was believed to foretell some dreadful disaster. Some famous apparitions include the following: the Christianisation of Kievan Rus' and the take-over of the town of Chersonesos by Vladimir the Great of 988, the Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus', the Battle of Kulikovo, and the Chernobyl disaster of 1986.
No fewer fears and legends were generated by the Great Comet of 1811, which remained in sight for 510 days.
Pierre Bezukhov, the War and Peace character, observed it in the winter sky of Moscow:
"Almost in the centre of it above the Prechistensky Boulevard, surrounded on all sides by stars, but distinguished from all by its nearness to the earth, its white light and long, upturned tail, shone the huge, brilliant comet of 1812; the comet which betokened, it was said, all manner of horrors and the end of the world."
Hence, the Russian Empire's citizens did no doubt the 'tailed star' was an omen of the invasion of almost half a million soldiers, who entered the country without a declaration of war.
The following events are hardly surprising then. The day before the Battle of Borodino - the largest battle of the Patriotic War of 1812 - a meteorite fell. The stone touched down at the location of the Russian artillery troops, based near the Gorki village. There it was found by a sentry who handed it over to his superior. As the top brass learnt about the incident, they issued a decree prohibiting mention of the fall. The officers were afraid that news spreading through word of mouth would make soldiers consider it a bad omen and create panic. The meteorite remained in possession of that sentry's superior. It had been kept in his family for almost 80 years until, in 1890, sold to the Mining Museum for 75 roubles.
The analysis was carried out to confirm the genuineness of the celestial body. The stony asteroid, weighing 325 grams, was named Borodino. It is classed as chondrite belonging to the H5 subtype, whose composition is virtually identical to that of the Sun, except for the lightest gases, such as hydrogen and helium. It is commonly believed that chondrites were formed by the accretion of particles of dust and grit present in the primitive Solar System.
Historians still debate over the winner of that battle. It seems clear that after Russia's retreat, the French occupied Moscow. Nevertheless, two years from that moment, the Russians were already on Montmartre. To this day, Russian and French occultists keep interpreting the meaning of the 'heavenly sign' in their own way.
The Borodino meteorite is now on permanent display in the Cosmogony Hall, wherein the Mining Museum's meteorite collection is showcased. The Museum's exhibition of meteorites houses over 800 samples and is believed to be one of the world's oldest meteorite collections.