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phanes relates, "the sky appeared to be on fire," with the coruscations of the flying meteors.
A shower of stars exactly similar took place in Canada, between the 3d and 4th of July, 1814, and another at Montreal, in November, 1819. In all these cases, a residuum, or black dust, was deposited upon the surface of the waters, and upon the roofs of buildings, and other objects. In the year 1810, "inflamed substances," it is said, fell into, and around lake Van, in Armenia, which stained the water of a blood color, and cleft the earth in various places. On the 5th of September, 1819, a like phenomenon was seen in Moravia. History furnishes many more instances of meteoric showers, depositing a red dust in some places, so plentiful as to admit of chemical analysis.
295. The commissioner (Mr. Andrew Ellicott), who was sent out by our government to fix the boundary between the Spanish possessions in North America and the United States, witnessed a very extraordinary flight of shooting stars, which filled the whole atmosphere from Cape Florida to the West India Islands. This grand phenomenon took place the 12th of November, 1799, and is thus described :-"I was called up," says Mr. Ellicott, "about 3 o'clock in the morning, to see the shooting stars, as they are called. The phenomenon was grand and awful. The whole heavens appeared as if illuminated with sky-rockets, which disappeared only by the light of the sun, after daybreak. The meteors, which at any one instant of time appeared as numerous as the stars, flew in all possible directions except from the earth, toward which they all inclined more or less, and some of them descended perpendicularly over the vessel we were in, so that I was in constant expectation of their falling on us."
Mr. Ellicott further states that his thermometer, which had been at 80° Fahr. for the four days preceding, fell to 56° about 4 o'clock, A. M., and that nearly at the same time, the wind changed from the south to the northwest, from whence it blew with great violence for three days without intermission.
These same appearances were observed the same night at Santa Fe de Bogota, Cumana, Quito, and Peru, in South America; and as far north as Labrador and Greenland, extending to Weimar in Germany, being thus visible over an extent on the globe of 64° of latitude, and 94° of longitude.
The celebrated Humboldt, accompanied by M. Bompland, then in S. America, thus speaks of the phenomenon :- "Toward the morning of the 13th of November, 1799, we witnessed a most extraordinary scene of shooting meteors. Thousands of bolides, and falling stars succeeded each other during four hours. Their direction was very regular from north to south. From the beginning of the phenomenon there was not a space in the firmament, equal in extent to three diameters of the moon, which was not filled every instant with bolides or falling stars. All the meteors left luminous traces, or phosphorescent bands behind them, which lasted seven or eight seconds."
295. What phenomenon described by Mr. Ellicott? When and where? thermometer? Where else observed, and by whom?
Effect on his
This phenomenon was witnessed by the Capuchin missionary at San Fernando de Afinra, a village situated in lat. 7° 58′ 12′′, amidst the savannahs of the province of Varinas; by the Franciscan monks stationed near the cataracts of the Oronoco, and at Marca, on the banks of the Rio Negro, lat. 2° 40', long. 70° 21', and in the west of Brazil, as far as the equator itself; and also at the city of Porto Cabello, lat. 10° 6' 52", in French Guiana, Popayan, Quito, and Peru. It is somewhat surprising that the same appearances, observed in places so widely separated, amid the vast and lonely deserts of South America, should have been seen, the same night, in the United States, in Labrador, in Greenland, and at Itterstadt, near Weimar, in Germany!
296. We are told that thirty years before, at the city of Quito, "there was seen in one part of the sky, above the volcano of Cayamburo, so great a number of falling stars, that the mountain was thought to be in flames. This singular sight lasted more than an hour. The people assembled in the plain of Exida, where a magnificent view presents itself of the highest summits of the Cordilleras. A procession was already on the point of setting out from the convent of St. Francis, when it was per ceived that the blaze on the horizon was caused by fiery meteors, which ran along the sky in all directions, at the altitude of 12 or 13 degrees."
297. But the most sublime phenomenon of shooting stars, of which the world has furnished any record, was witnessed throughout the United States on the morning of the 13th of November, 1833. The entire extent of this astonishing exhibition has not been precisely ascertained, but it covered no inconsiderable portion of the earth's surface. It has been traced from the longitude of 61°, in the Atlantic ocean, to longitude 100° in Central Mexico, and from the North American lakes to the West Indies. It was not seen, however, anywhere in Europe, nor in South America, nor in any part of the Pacific Ocean yet heard from.
Everywhere, within the limits above mentioned, the first appearance was that of fireworks of the most imposing grandeur, covering the entire vault of heaven with myriads of fire-balls, resembling sky-rockets. Their coruscations were bright, gleaming and incessant, and they fell thick as the flakes in the early snows of December. (See cut on the next page.)
To the splendors of this celestial exhibition, the most brilliant sky-rockets and fireworks of art bear less relation than the twinkling of the most tiny star to the broad glare of the sun. The whole heavens seemed in motion, and suggested to some the awful grandeur of the image employed in the apocalypse, upon the opening of the sixth seal, when "the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind."
298. One of the most remarkable circumstances attending his display was, that the meteors all seemed to emanate from
296. What other similar phenomenon cited? 297. What still more sublime spectacle? Its extent? Its appearance?
one and the same point, a little southeast of the zenith. Following the arch of the sky, they ran along with immense velocity, describing, in some instances, an arc of 30° or 40° in a few
seconds. On more attentive inspection it was seen, that the meteors exhibited three distinct varieties; the first, consisting of phosphoric lines, apparently described by a point; the second, of large fire-balls, that at intervals darted along the sky, leaving luminous trains, which occasionally remained in view for a number of minutes, and, in some cases, for half an hour or more; the third, of undefined luminous bodies, which remained nearly stationary in the heavens for a long time.
Those of the first variety were the most numerous, and resembled a shower of fiery snow driven with inconceivable velocity to the north of west. The second kind appeared more like falling stars-a spectacle which was contemplated by the more unenlightened beholders with great amazement and terror. The trains which they left were commonly white, but sometimes were tinged with various prismatic colors, of great beauty.
299. These fire-balls were occasionally of enormous size. Dr. Smith, of North Carolina, describes one which appeared larger than the full moon rising. "I was," says he, "startled by the
998. What remarkable circumstance attended this phenomenon? Variety of meteors? 299. What said of the fireballs seen? Of their size?
splendid light in which the surrounding scene was exhibited, rendering even small objects quite visible."
The same ball, or a similar one, seen at New Haven, passed off in a northwest direction, and exploded a little northward of the star Capella, leaving, just behind the place of explosion, a train of peculiar beauty. The line of direction was at first nearly straight; but it soon began to contract in length, to dilate in breadth, and to assume the figure of a serpent SCROLLING itself up, until it appeared like a luminous cloud of vapor, floating gracefully in the air, where it remained in full view for several minutes.
If this body were at the distance of 110 miles from the observer, it must have had a diameter of one mile; if at the distance of 11 miles, its diameter was 528 feet; and if only one mile
off, it must have been 48 feet in diameter. These considerations leave no doubt that many of the meteors were bodies of large size.
300. Of the third variety of meteors, the following are remarkable examples:-At Poland, Ohio, a luminous body was distinctly visible in the northeast for more than an hour. It was very brilliant, in the form of a pruning-hook, and apparently twenty feet long, and eighteen inches broad. It gradually settled toward the horizon, until it disappeared.
At Niagara Falls, a large luminous body, shaped like a square table, was seen near the zenith, remaining for some time almost stationary, emitting large streams of light.
301. The point from which the meteors seemed to emanate, was observed, by those who fixed its position among the stars, to be in constellation Leo; and, according to their concurrent testimony, this RADIANT POINT was stationary among the stars, during the whole period of observation; that is, it did not move along with the earth, in its diurnal revolution eastward, but accompanied the stars in their apparent progress westward.
A remarkable change of weather, from warm to cold, accompanied the meteoric ehower, or immediately followed it. In all parts of the United States, this change was remarkable for its suddenness and intensity. In many places, the day preceding had been unusually warm for the season, but, before the next morning, a severe frost ensued, unparalleled for the time of year.
302. In attempting to explain these mysterious phenomena, it is argued, in the first place, that the meteors had their origin beyond the limits of our atmosphere; that they of course did not belong to this earth, but to the regions of space exterior to it.
300. What other variety of meteors described? Where? 301. Point from which they seemed to emanate? What change of weather followed? 802. What fact asserted as to the distance from which those meteors came? Professor Olmsted's estimate of distance?
The reason on which the conclusion is founded is this:-All bodies near the earth, including the atmosphere itself, have a common motion with the earth around its axis from west to east; but the radiant point, that indicated the source from which the meteors emanated, followed the course of the stars from east to west; therefore, it was independent of the earth's rotation, and consequently, at a great distance from it, and beyond the limits of the atmosphere. The height of the meteoric cloud, or radiant point, above the earth's surface, was, according to the mean average of Professor Olmsted's observations, not less than 2238 miles.
303. That the meteors were constituted of very light, combustible materials, seems to be evident, from their exhibiting the actual phenomena of combustion, they being consumed, or converted into smoke, with intense light; and the extreme tenuity of the substance composing them is inferred from the fact that they were stopped by the resistance of the air. Had their quantity of matter been considerable, with so prodigious a velocity, they would have had sufficient momentum to dash them upon the earth; where the most disastrous consequences might have followed.
The momentum of even light bodies of such size, and in such numbers, traversing the atmosphere with such astonishing velocity, must have produced extensive derangements in the atmospheric equilibrium. Cold air from the upper regions would be brought down to the earth; the portions of air incumbent over districts of country remote from each other, being mutually displaced, would exchange places, the air of the warm latitudes be transferred to colder, and that of cold latitudes to warmer regions.
304. Various hypotheses have been proposed to account for this wonderful phenomena. The agent which most readily suggests itself in this, and in many other unexplained natural appearances, is electricity. But no known properties of electricity are adequate to account for the production of the meteors, for their motions, or for the trains which they, in many instances, left behind them. Others, again, have referred their proximate cause to magnetism. and to phosphureted hydrogen; both of which, however, seem to be utterly insufficient, so far as their properties are known, to account for so unusual a phenomenon.
305. Professor Olmsted, of Yale College, who has taken much pains to collect facts, and to establish a permanent theory for the periodical recurrence of such phenomena, came to the conclusion, that
The meteors of November 13th, 1833, emanated from a nebulous body, which was then pursuing its way along with the earth around the sun; that this body continues to revolve around the sun, in an elliptical orbit but little inclined to the plane of the ecliptic, and having its aphelion near the orbit of the earth; and finally, that
303. Supposed composition of these meteors? Why? 304. Hypotheses for explain ing phenomenon? Are they satisfactory? 805. Professor Olmsted's conclusion