Museum to reunite Scotland’s largest recorded meteorite

Peter Davidson. Picture: Contributed.
Peter Davidson. Picture: Contributed.
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It was a bright, fiery mass streaking through the sky that was seen across a huge stretch of the UK on a cold winter’s afternoon nearly a century ago.

A loud explosion heralded the arrival of what is still Scotland’s largest recorded meteorite - before it broke into four parts in mid-air.

Now, for the first time in 100 years, the different fragments of the “Strathmore Meteorite” which fell over a ten-kilometre stretch of countryside in Angus and Perthshire, are about to be reunited.

The National Museum of Scotland is to put the pieces, which weigh more than 13 kg in total, on display as part on an exhibition which will recall the incident that is cited as an early example of “citizen science”.

More than 20 eyewitness accounts were tracked down thanks to detective work by Henry Coates, curator of the Perthshire Museum of Natural History, who also visited each site to record and photograph them in the aftermath of the incident, just after 1pm on 3 December 1917.

Fragments are going on loan from the modern-day Perth Museum and the Natural History Museum in London for the exhibition, Down to Earth, which will explore how accounts of the incident sparked intense debate in the pages of The Scotsman.

It will also reveal how Mr Coates, president of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science, was responsible for doctoring a famous photograph to show how one of the fragments had gone through the roof of the cottage. The roof had been repaired before Mr Coates got there.

Fragments of Scotland’s other three recorded meteorite falls - in High Possil, in Glasgow, Glenrothes, in Fife, and Perth, will also be featured in the exhibition, which runs from 10 November to 1 April.

Peter Davidson, senior curator of mineralology at the National Museum of Scotland, said: “The four fragments, of the Strathmore Meteorite landed in fields between Coupar Angus and Blairgowie and the roof of a cottage.

“In many ways, Henry Coates is the hero of the story as he went around the various sites where the fragments of the meteorite had landed and got together with the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh to ask people to write to newspapers like The Scotsman to ask people exactly what they saw.

“A fragment definitely did go through the lodge house of the Keithick Estate, near Perth. A couple living there with their daughter heard a bang on the roof and could see there was a hole when they went outside. Their daughter went up on to the roof and saw the fragment when she looked through the hole. The next day a joiner went up to retrieve the fragment and repaired the roof.

“Henry Coates went up there later on to photograph. He published two images which are almost identical - one with a hole in the roof and one without.

“He basically scratched off part of the negative to reveal a black hole. If you look closely you can see it is not an even hole - it looks as if someone has taken a pen-knife to it.

“I think he did it to show that the fragment really did go through the roof. I don’t think there was any deliberate deception. He was probably caught out by the fact it had already been repaired.

“There are very few incidents anywhere in the world where a building has been damaged by a meteorite. In its own right, it was a very unusual occurrence.”