Yesterday, I was sweating it out. The city I live in was hit with strong thunderstorms, and baseball sized hail. The main reason I was sweating it out was because the night sky might not be conducive to seeing the Camelopardalid meteor shower due to cloud cover. But I was pleasantly surprised when the sky cleared around sunset. Between 10 and 11 PM, I drank two large glasses of caffeinated iced tea, Southern style. I was prepared to pull an all-nighter and psyched to watch the meteor shower. My area had a good chance of seeing natures fireworks in full display. It was predicted that we could see between 200 and 300 meteors per hour. I was sorely disappointed. As my eyes scanned the night sky in anticipation, I was reminded of the November 1833 Leonid meteor storm.
In 1866, Giovanni Schiaparelli, an Italian astronomer and science historian, reportedly became the first person to link a specific meteor shower with a specific comet. Schiaparelli demonstrated that each November Earth travels through the dust trail left by Comet Tempel-Tuttle (55P / Tempel-Tuttle), a comet that orbits the Sun once every 33.17 years. The dust and debris that its nucleus leaves behind becomes the Leonid meteor shower. Source
Victorian astronomy writer Agnes Clerke’s wrote:
“On the night of November 12-13, 1833, a tempest of falling stars broke over the earth…. the sky was scored in every direction with shining tracks and illuminated with majestic fireballs. At Boston, the frequency of meteors was estimated to be about half that of flakes of snow in an average snowstorm. Their numbers … were quite beyond counting; but as it waned, a reckoning was attempted, from which it was computed, on the basis of that much-diminished rate, that 240,000 must have been visible during the nine hours they continued to fall.”
Can you imagine how spectacular that must have been? From one vantage point, approximately 26 thousand meteors fell per hour. Some estimates by observers were in excess of 200,000 per hour. At the time this event occurred, the world was largely ignorant of the cause of meteor showers and storms. However, some records indicate that the storm could have been anticipated; even predicted by astronomers of that era. It certainly would have helped in curtailing fear, religious superstition and mass hysteria.
Illinois Genealogy History Group writes:
“The meteor storm made a deep and terrifying impression on the American people. According to newspaper reports almost everyone saw it, awakened either by the commotion in the streets or by the moving glare of fireballs shining into bedroom windows.
In 1878 the historian R. M. Devens listed it as one of the 100 most memorable events in U.S. history. “During the three hours of its continuance,” he wrote, “the day of judgment was believed to be only waiting for sunrise, and, long after the shower had ceased, the morbid and superstitious still were impressed with the idea that the final day was at least only a week ahead.
Impromptu meetings for prayer were held in many places, and many other scenes of religious devotion, or terror, or abandonment of worldly affairs, transpired, under the influence of fear occasioned by so sudden and awful a display.”
Yale professor Denison Olmsted, who also witnessed the event, wrote:
“Imagine a constant succession of fireballs, resembling rockets, radiating in all directions from a point in the heavens,”
Because so many Americans were indoctrinated by Christianity and the bible, they believed the end was near — that the judgement day was close at hand. It struck fear in the masses and spiked church attendance and spawned religious revivals throughout America.
Sky and Telescope Magazine:
“The 1833 shower has been credited with contributing to the intense religious revivals that swept the United States in the 1830s, which permanently influenced the national character and spread new sects and denominations that are well established on the American scene today.”
According to the reports, most Americans were awaken by bright lights from the meteor storms and the commotion, especially fear, among vast populations in the U.S. The event left a lasting impression on most of the country. The most famous image of the event, as seen above, was drawn more than 50 years later for the 7th Day Adventist — religious primer illustrating biblical prophecies fulfilled (Sky &Telescope: September 1987).
The founder and first leader of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, noted in his journal: “This event was a literal fulfillment of the word of God and a sure sign that the coming of Christ is close at hand.” (The Joseph Smith Papers Journals Volume 1: 1832–1839)
Illinois Genealogy History Group writes:
“It’s no stretch to believe that this meteor storm figured in the intense religious fervor of the age. Abraham W. Carlock, another eyewitness from McLean County, told Duis that “this phenomenon alarmed the superstitious, as such things always do, and many people thought the millennium was surely at hand.” Many believed the stars were literally falling from the sky, and afterward the event became known as — “The Night the Stars Fell.”
The 7th Day Adventists is one of the fastest growing protestant denominations in the world, with approximately 17 million members and 25 million attending church weekly. The denomination is endorsed by two American presidents. Their prophet, Ellen White (now deceased), claimed that prophetic signs would appear before Christ’s Second Coming (based on biblical scripture) and were actually literal events that occurred in 1833. She wrote:
“In 1833, two years after Miller began to present in public the evidences of Christ’s soon coming, the last of the signs appeared which were promised by the Saviour as tokens of His second advent. Said Jesus: “The stars shall fall from heaven.” Matthew 24:29. And John in the Revelation declared, as he beheld in vision the scenes that should herald the day of God: “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.” Revelation 6:13.
This prophecy received a striking and impressive fulfillment in the great meteoric shower of November 13, 1833. That was the most extensive and wonderful display of falling stars which has ever been recorded; “the whole firmament, over all the United States, being then, for hours, in fiery commotion! No celestial phenomenon has ever occurred in this country, since its first settlement, which was viewed with such intense admiration by one class in the community, or with so much dread and alarm by another. Its sublimity and awful beauty still linger in many minds…. Never did rain fall much thicker than the meteors fell toward the earth; east, west, north, and south, it was the same. In a word, the whole heavens seemed in motion…”
There were Leonid showers long before 1833, and since then, such as the great meteor storm in 1966 and 2001. The first verifiable mention of the Leonid Meteor Shower was November of 902 CE. NASA estimates that the comet Tempel-Tuttle crossed inside Earth’s orbit for the first time in 866 CE.
“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty.
To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”
~ Bertrand Russell
Next post — Four Neuroscience Techniques to Overcome Fear. These techniques are used in Navy Seals Training.