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The residents of Punjab, a region of India, got a good scare 400 years ago today. A bright meteor streaked across the dawn sky, accompanied by a loud rumble. It then plunged to the ground, burying itself in the dirt. A local official ordered villagers to dig up the remains: a chunk of iron that weighed several pounds.
The official sent the prize to the emperor of the Mughal Empire, which incorporated much of present-day India and part of Afghanistan. And the emperor had it made into swords and daggers.
The piece of iron — a meteorite — probably was forged in the heart of an asteroid. The asteroid was big enough that it separated into layers, with iron and nickel at its center. A collision with another body split it apart, sending pieces flying through the solar system. One of those pieces landed in Punjab in 1621.
The emperor, Jahangir, was interested in many subjects, including astronomy and works of art. And any rock that fell from the sky was thought to have mystical powers. So it was an easy call to have the meteorite converted to weapons — symbols of royal power. The emperor named one of the swords “lightning iron.”
In the 1950s, one of the daggers found its way to the Smithsonian. Eventually, an X-ray showed there was a bit of nickel mixed with the iron in the blade. That’s good confirmation that the blade was forged from a meteorite — a bit of “lightning” that struck India 400 years ago.