Whodunit? The fall of a meteorite at L'Aigle on the 6th of Floreal of the year 11

Jean-Baptiste Biot

Jean-Baptiste Biot (1774-1862)

On the 6th day of the month of Floreal of the year 11 of the French Republic, that is April 26th, 1803 according to the Gregorian calendar, around 01:00pm, a meteorite exploded in the atmosphere above the city of L'Aigle, in Lower Normandy, and scattered some 3,000 pieces of stone over the countryside. Men and beasts got away with a memorable scare, but nobody and nothing came to serious harm.

That the meteorite of L'Aigle would remain of momentous importance in the history of science is due to the Interior Ministry deciding to dispatch, some two months after the fact, a bright young scientist, Jean-Baptiste Biot, to investigate the "moral and physical circumstances" of the event. A protégé of Laplace, Biot, who was not yet thirty, had already held the chair for mathematical physics at the College de France since the age of twenty-six.

Biot conducted his investigation with the brio of a master detective in a whodunit, and was able to demonstrate once and for all, by sheer logical deductions, based on the examination of clues and the questioning of witnesses, a fact which the science of the time had been obstinately denying: that stones of non-terrestrial origin fell from the sky. This fact has never been seriously put in doubt since.

Following Biot's demonstration, collections and museums all over the world seemed to have wanted nothing more than to own a piece of the L'Aigle meteorite, and there are samples of it to be found in Vienna, London, Stockholm, Dublin, Budapest, New York, Washington, Berlin, Bonn, Chicago, and many cities of Russia. We (Al de G. and I) even saw one prominently displayed in Kharkov, Ukraine.

The event of 6th Floreal of the year 11, remains to this day one of the best documented meteoritic events. Here is the full text of Jean-Baptiste Biot's report to the Institut National, newly translated.

J.-B. Biot: Relation of a Voyage made in the Departement of the Orne

to verify the reality of a meteorite observed at L'Aigle on the 6th of Floreal of the year 11 [26th April, 1803]

read to the class of mathematical and physical sciences of the Institut National, on 29th Messidor, year 11 [18 July 1803].

(translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia)

Go to Jean-Baptiste Biot's full memoir in pdf

Memoir of Jean-Baptiste of the Fall of meteorite of L'Aigle

Map in Biot's "Relation" - the ellipse shows the area of scattering of the meteoritic debris.

Piece of meteorite of L'Aigle at Humboldt University, Berlin
piece of meteorite of L'Aigle
pieve of meteorite of L'Aigle