This week in history: First Near-Earth Asteroid discovered, Cologne Cathedral’s foundation laid, and five suspected witches hanged in Salem, MA. Read more below and dive deeper with The Great Courses Plus.
August 13, 1898 – Carl Gustav Witt Discovers the First Near-Earth Asteroid
On this day in 1898, Carl Gustav Witt would observe the first near-Earth asteroid to be discovered, now known as 433 Eros. The second largest near-Earth asteroid, 433 Eros is thought to be even larger than the asteroid that formed the Chicxulub crater and likely caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. NEAs like Eros will only orbit Earth for a few million years, after which gravitational forces will cause its orbit to change; some simulations suggest that Eros’s shifting orbit may cause it to cross paths with Earth, resulting in a potentially devastating impact reminiscent of the one that occurred 65 million years ago.
Learn more about asteroids in Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy, 2nd Edition
August 15, 1248 – Foundation Stone of Cologne Cathedral is Laid
One of the greatest examples of medieval Gothic architecture, the first foundation stone of the Cologne Cathedral would be laid on this day in 1248. The largest Gothic church in northern Europe, the cathedral is Germany’s most-visited landmark and as of 1996 a World Heritage Site. Built to house the reliquary of the Three Kings, the cathedral’s medieval plans were incredibly ambitious. Though construction would begin in 1248 it would come to a grinding halt in the 16th century, leaving the cathedral incomplete. Following the discovery of the original plans, construction would resume in the 19th century and finally completed in 1880, 632 years after the first stone was laid.
Learn more about the Cologne Cathedral in The Cathedral
August 19, 1692 – Five People Executed during the Salem Witch Trials
One of the most notorious moments in early American history, the Salem Witch Trials would claim the lives of 20 Puritans (14 of them women) between 1692 and 1693. Spurred by suspicions and rumors of witchcraft in the town of Salem, Massachusetts and the surrounding area, it is considered the largest case of mass hysteria in United States history. On this day in 1692 five people would be hanged after being convicted of witchcraft; of those five, four were men, one of whom was a member of the Puritan clergy. To this day people are fascinated by the mystery surrounding the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials, and theories abound as to what led a small Puritan community to turn against its own.