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the stars were indeed falling from heaven. Different names have been applied to them, although the distinction is not very definite. (1) Aerolites are those
stony masses which fall to the earth. (2) Shooting Stars are those evanescent brilliant points that suddenly dart through the higher regions of the air, leaving a fiery train behind. (3) Meteors are luminous bodies which have a sensible diameter and a spherical form. They frequently pass over a great extent of country, and are seen for some seconds of time. Many leave behind a train of glowing sparks; others explode with reports like the discharge of artillery,—the pieces either continuing their course, or falling to the earth as aerolites. Some meteors, doubtless, after having favored us with a transient illumination, pass on into space; some are vaporized; while others are burned and the ashes and fragments fall to the ground.
Aerolites.—The fall of aerolites is frequently mentioned and well authenticated. Chinese records tell of one as long ago as in 616 B. c, which, in its fall, broke several chariots and killed ten men. A block of stone, equal to a full wagon-load, fell in the Hellespont, B. c 465. By the ancients, these stones were held in great repute. The Emperor Jehangire, it is related, had a sword forged from a mass of meteoric iron which fell in the Punjab in 1620. In 1795, a mass was seen, by a ploughman, to descend toward the earth at a spot not far from where he was standing. It threw up the soil on every side, and penetrated some distance into the solid rock beneath. In 1807, a shower of stones, one weighing 200 lbs., fell at Weston, Connecticut. These aerolites are sometimes seen to plunge downward into the earth, and are found while yet glowing. A mass thus fell in South America, which was estimated to weigh fifteen tons. When first discovered, it was so hot as to prevent all approach. Upon its cooling, many efforts were made, by some travellers who were present, to detach specimens, but its hardness was too great for any tools which they possessed. There is a mass of meteoric iron in Yale College cabinet, weighing 1,635 lbs.
Aerolites consist of elements which are familiar. The analysis of these stellar masses gives us names as commonplace as if they had known a far less romantic origin—oxygen, sulphur, phosphorus, iron, tin, copper: in all, nineteen elements have been found. This fact is interesting as revealing something of the chemistry of the region of space, concerning which we otherwise know nothing. The compounds, however, are very peculiar, so as to distinguish an aerolite from any terrestrial substance. For example, meteoric iron, a prominent constituent of aerolites, is an alloy that has never been found in terrestrial minerals.
Meteors.—The records of meteors are still more wonderful. It is related that at Crema, Italy, one day in the 15th century, the sky at noonday became dark,—a cloud of appalling blackness overspreading the heavens. Upon this cloud appeared the semblance of a great peacock of fire flying over the town. This suddenly changed to a huge pyramid, that rapidly traversed the sky. Thence arose awful lightnings and thunderings, amid which there fell i
upon the plain great rocks, some of which weighed 100 lbs. In 1803 a brilliant fireball (meteor) was seen traversing Normandy with great velocity, and some moments after, frightful explosions, like the noise of cannon or roll of musketry, were heard coming from a single black cloud hanging in a clear sky; they were prolonged for five or six minutes. These discharges were followed by a great shower of stones, some weighing over 24 lbs. In 1819 a meteor was witnessed in Massachusetts and Maryland, the diameter of which was estimated at half a mile. Its height was thought to be about 25 miles. In July, 1860, a brilliant fireball passed over the state of New York from west to east, and was last seen far out at sea.
Shooting Stars.—One of the earliest accounts of star-showers is that which relates how, in 472, the sky at Constantinople appeared to be alive with flying stars and meteors. In some Eastern annals we are told that in October, 1202, "the stars appeared like waves upon the sky. They flew about like grasshoppers, and were dispersed from left to right." It is recorded that in the time of King William IL there occurred in England a wonderful shower of stars, which "seemed to fall like rain from heaven. An eye-witness seeing where an aerolite fell, cast water upon it, which was raised in steam with a great noise of boiling." Eastel says concerning it: "By the report of the common people in this kynge's time, diverse great wonders were seene, and therefore the kynge was told by diverse of his familiars, that God was not content with his lyvyng."
In more modern times, the most remarkable accounts are those of the showers of November 12th, 1799, and 1833. Humboldt, in describing the former, says the sky was covered with innumerable fiery trails, which incessantly traversed the sky from north to south. From the beginning of the phenomenon there was not a space in the heavens three times the diameter of the moon which was not filled every instant with the celestial fireworks,—large meteors blending constantly their dazzling brilliancy with the long phosphorescent paths of the shooting stars. The latter shower was most brilliant on this continent, and was visible from the lakes to the equator. The scene was one of the most imposing grandeur. Phosphoric lines swept over the sky like the flakes of a sharp snow-storm. Large meteors darted across the heavens, leaving luminous trains behind them that were visible sometimes for half an hour: they generally shed a soft white fight; occasionally, however, yellow, green, and other colors varied the scene. Irregular fireballs, almost stationary, glared in the sky; one especially, larger than the moon, hung in mid air over Niagara Falls and mingled its ghastly light with the foam and mist of the cataract. The shower commenced near midnight, but was at its height about 5 A.m. In many