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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 II. 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 sections of the country, the people were terrorstricken by the awful spectacle, and supposed that the end of the world had come.
An inferior shower was seen in 1831 and 1832; and so also in the succeeding years, until 1839. These did not compare in brilliancy with the remarkable phenomenon of 1833.
There was an interval of about 33 or 34 years between the great showers of 1799 and 1833; this seemed to indicate another shower in November, 1866. The people of both hemispheres were literally awake to the subject. Newspapers aroused the most sluggish imagination with thrilling accounts of the scenes presented in 1799 and 1833. Extempore observatories were founded in every convenient point. Watchmen were stationed, and the city bells were to be rung on the appearance of the first wandering celestial visitor. The -exact night was not definitely known, but for fear of a mistake, the 11th, 12th, and 13th were generally observed. All painfully testify to those nights being clear and beautiful as moonlight and starlight could make them. The anxious vigils, the fruitless scannings of the sky, the disappointment, the meteors that were dimly thought to be seen—all these are recorded in the memory of the temporary astronomers of that year. While, however, the people of America were thus disappointed, there was being enacted in England a display brilliant indeed, though inferior to the one of 1833. The staff at Greenwich Observatory counted about 8,000 meteors; other observers, however, made a much lower estimate. Chambers, in describing the phenomena, says: "Of the large number of descriptions which came under my eye in manuscript and in print, the following is a fair example: 'From 11£ P. M. until 2 A. M. we were much interested in watching the shooting stars; anything so beautiful I never saw, especially about one o'clock, when they were most brilliant;' and so on by the ream." In November, 1867, the long-expected shower was seen in this country, but it failed to satisfy the public expectation. The sky was, however, illumined with shooting stars and meteors, some of which exceeded even Jupiter or Venus in brilliancy.
Number of meteors and shooting stars.—In a paper lately read by Prof. Newton, it is estimated that the average number of meteors that traverse the atmosphere daily, and which are large enough to be visible to the eye on a dark clear night, is 7,500,000; and if to these the telescopic meteors be added, the number would be increased to 400,000,000. In the space traversed by the earth there are, on the average, in each volume the size of our globe (including its atmosphere), as many as 13,000 small bodies, each one capable of furnishing a shooting star visible under favorable circumstances to the naked eye.
Annual periodicity of the star-showers.—On almost any clear night, from five to seven shooting stars
S may be seen per hour, but in certain months they are much more abundant. Arago names the following principal dates:
April 4r-ll; 17-25. October (about) 15.
Origin.—Aerolites, meteors, and falling stars all seem to have a common origin. They are produced by small bodies—planets in miniature—which are revolving, like our earth, about the sun. Their orbits intersect the orbit of the earth, and if at any time they reach the point of crossing exactly with the earth, there is a collision. Their mass is so small, that the earth is not jarred any more than is a railway train by a pebble thrown against it.
These small bodies may come near the earth and be drawn to its surface by the power of attraction; or they may simply sweep through the higher regions of the atmosphere, and there escape its grasp; or, finally, they may, under certain conditions, be compelled to revolve many times around the earth as satellites. Indeed, a French astronomer estimates that there is one now circling about the earth at a distance of 5,000 miles. This companion of our moon has a period of three hours and twenty minutes. The average velocity of these meteoric bodies or bolides, as they are frequently called, is thirty-six miles per second—much greater than that of Mercury itself. As they sweep through the air,