Werner Herzog’s new film, ‘Fireball,’ explores the power and mystery of meteorites


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On November 7, 1492, a fiery space rock whistled through the sky. It rocketed into a wheat field near the town of Ensisheim, in modern-day France, punching a hole 3 feet deep into the soil. A young boy was its only witness, according to historical accounts. 

Ensisheim at that point was the headquarters of Austrian troops. Just weeks after the meteor’s arrival, the Austrian military commander, King Maximilian, came to the town on his way to battle the French. Upon learning about the impact, Maximilian declared it to be a sign of divine favor – and the town believed him.

“For those people, wonderful supernatural signs in the heavens were messages,” Professor Simon Schaffer, of Cambridge University, says in “Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds,” a new documentary from filmmaker Werner Herzog about meteorites. “This was, as it were, an email sent from God to the subjects of Maximilian to tell them that his rule was legitimate, that he’d defeat his enemies, and that they should obey his command.”

Herzog co-directed the documentary with British volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer. It premiered Friday on Apple TV+ and takes viewers on a sightseeing tour of some of the world’s most historic meteorites and impact craters. The film also features the people who study these space rocks. 

This is the second documentary Herzog and Oppenheimer have made together; the previous one, “Into the Inferno,” was about volcanoes. With “Fireball,” the pair hope to further elevate science through filmmaking.

“We always said, ‘this has to be a new form,'” Herzog told Business Insider. “‘We should depart from the National Geographic movies. Yes, they have very good stuff, but let’s put it on a different level. This sense of awe, the raw excitement.'” 

‘Stones that are falling from the heavens’

In the documentary, Herzog and Oppenheimer visit the Vatican, where a Jesuit priest named Brother Guy Consolmagno presides over an extensive meteorite collection. The film also includes shaky footage of the Black Stone, a sacred rock in the city of Mecca that Muslims circle during their pilgrimages. It might be a meteorite, though researchers have not been allowed to study it. 

“We found footage shot by a Pilgrim on his cell phone,” Herzog said of the footage shown. “Like metal particles attracted by a magnet, everybody’s converging and screaming in this hustle, and jockeying for position for touching or kissing it. It’s just phenomenal, phenomenal.”

Each scene in the film relates to the central premise: that wherever they’ve fallen, meteorites have shaped human political and religious life. 

“These are stones that are falling from the heavens,” Oppenheimer told Business Insider. “This is some clue that the gods are intervening in human affairs.”

Of course, the documentary does not neglect Earth’s most famous asteroid impact. About 66 million years ago, a giant space rock slammed into the Yucatán Peninsula in modern-day Mexico with a force equivalent to millions of nuclear bombs. It triggered a mile-high tsunami, acidified the oceans, and released billions of tons of sulfur that blocked sunlight and cooled Earth. An …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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