The Ramgarh Crater in northern India was formed millions of years ago when a large meteorite crashed into Earth. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that scientists began to believe it was an impact basin. From the ground, it’s difficult to assess that it’s a crater. The thing is just too big to take in all at once. Yet the cluster of temples in the center of Ramgarh suggests ancient cultures recognized there was something special about the place, even if they had no way of knowing it was formed by a rock from outer space. Examining the effects of meteorites is always scientific, but it’s often spiritual, too, and it’s the tension between those two disciplines that drives Fireball.
Written and directed by Werner Herzog, the documentary aims to make sense of extraterrestrial geology, to trace all the ways meteorites have made impressions far beyond the edges of any individual crater. Herzog and his co-director, Cambridge University volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, interview boffins geeking out over meteorites in their lab, of course, but also a jazz musician prowling for micrometeorites on the rooftops of Oslo, an indigenous painter chronicling otherworldly stories in the outback of Australia, and a Jesuit priest keeping vigil over a meteorite collection in a secluded European observatory. “Every stone has its own separate story,” Herzog says.