Monday, December 15, 2008

from The American Journal of Science and the Arts, 1820

(page 335—Account of a gelatinous meteor, by Rufus Graves, Esq., formerly Lecturer on Chemistry at Dartmouth College; communicated by Professor Dewey.)

On the evening of the thirteenth day of August, 1819, between the hours of eight and nine o'clock, was seen in the atmosphere, at Amherst, Massachusetts, a falling meteor or fire ball, of the size, as represented by an intelligent spectator, of a man's hat, or a large blown bladder, of a brilliant white light resembling burnished silver.

The position of this spectator being in a direct line of the street where the luminous ball appeared, and at the distance of not more than five hundred yards, with the sight bounded by the buildings, there could be no deception relative to the direction that it took. Its altitude, at its first discovery, was two or three times the height of the houses; it fell slowly in a perpendicular direction, emitting great light, till it appeared to strike the earth in front of the buildings, and was instantly extinguished, with a heavy explosion. At the same instant, as appeared from the report, and from the ringing of the church bell, an unusually white light was seen a few minutes afterwards, by two ladies in a chamber of Mr. Erastus Dewey. While they were sitting with two candles burning in the room, a bright luminous circular spot suddenly appeared on the side wall of the chamber near the upper floor in front of them, of the size of a two feet stand-table leaf. This spectrum descended slowly with a tremulous motion nearly to the lower floor and disappeared.

In critically examining the chamber where the foregoing phenomenon was observed, it appeared that the light must have entered through the east front window in a diagonal direction, and impinged on the north wall of the chamber back of the ladies, and thence reflected to the south wall in front of them, forming the circular spectrum, with the coorresponding tremulous motion of the meteor, and descending with it in the same direction, according to the fixed laws of incidence and reflection.

Early on the ensuing morning, was discovered in the door yard of the above mentioned Erastus Dewey, at about twenty feet from the front of the house, a substance unlike any thing before observed by any one who saw it. The situation in which it was found, being exactly in the direction in which the luminous body was first seen, and in the only position to have thrown its light into the chamber, (as before remarked,) leaves no reasonable doubt that the substance found was the residuum of the meteoric body.

This substance when first seen by the writer was entire, no part of it having been removed. It was in a circular form, resembling a sauce or sallad dish bottom upwards, about eight inches in diameter, and something more than one in thickness, of a bright buff colour, with a fine nap upon it similar to that on milled cloth, which seemed to defend it from the action of the air. On removing the villous coat, a buff couloured pulpy substance of the consistency of good soft soap, of an offensive, suffocating smell appeared; and on a near approach to it, or when immediately over it, the smell became almost insupportable, producing nausea and dizziness. A few minutes exposure to the atmosphere changed the buff into a livid colour resembling venous blood. It was observed to attract moisture very readily from the air. A half-point tumbler was nearly half filled with the substance. It soon began to liquify and form a mucilaginous substance of the consistence, colour, and feeling of starch when prepared for domestic use. The tumbler was then set in a safe place, where it remained undisturbed for two or three days; and when examined afterwards, the substance was found to have all evaporated, except a small dark coloured residuum, adhering to the bottom and sides of the glass, which, when rubbed between the fingers, produced a fine ash-coloured powder without taste or smell; the whole of which might have been included in a lady's thimble.

The place where the substance was first found was examined, and nothing was to be seen but a thin membranous substance adhering to the ground similar to that found on the glass.

This singular substance was submitted to the action of acids. With the muriatic and nitric acids, both concentrated and diluted, no chemical action was observed, and the matter remained unchanged. With the concentrated sulphuric acid a violent effervescence ensued, a gaseous body was evolved, and nearly the whole substance dissolved. There being no chemical apparatus at hand, the evolving gas was not preserved, or its properties examined.

from Meteorological Essays, 1855

(page 38)

At the Beuzeville station, on the railroad from Paris to Havre, during a thunderstorm which took place on the 17th of May, 1852, at five in the afternoon, there were observed some very curious facts, which I insert from a letter of M. Lalande, written from the account given by M. Maillot, the station master.

"I had left my wife to replace me at my post at the telegraph, and had gone to the goods' shed on the other side of the inclined plane, for the purpose of hastening the loading of a waggon to be attached to the mixed train which was to ascend the plane at 6 h. 18 m. At this moment I saw in the southeast, advancing towards the place where I was, a luminous globe, resembling the mimic bomb shells used in the representation of battles. I called out to one of the factors that he might enjoy the sight, and thus he as well as myself saw this luminous ball, which we expected to pass over our heads, suddenly stop and disappear, just as it was above the telegraph wires, sixty feet from us. At the same time the lightning fell, as we afterwards learnt, in the churchyard of Beuzeville, which would lead me to believe that the kind of zigzag which appeared to drive the luminous globe towards us was itself the ordinary striking lightning or thunderbolt. The storm afterwards passed on with increased violence to Criquetotlez-Neval, where the hail did much damage."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

from A Philosophical and Mathematical Dictionary, 1815

(page 68)

As the moon has on her surface mountains and valleys in common with the earth, some modern astronomers have discovered a still greater similarity, viz, that some of these are really volcanoes, emitting fire, as those on the earth do. An appearance of this kind was discovered some few years ago by Don Ulloa in an eclipse of the sun. It was a small bright spot like a star near the margin of the moon, and which he at that time supposed to be a hole or valley with the sun's light shining through it. Succeeding observations, however, have induced astronomers to attribute appearances of this kind to the eruption of volcanic fire; and Dr. Herschel has particularly observed several eruptions of the lunar volcanoes, the last of which he gives an account of in the Philos. Trans. for 1787, April 19, 10h. 6m. sidereal time.

"I perceived," says he, "three volcanoes in different places of the dark part of the new moon. Two of them are either already nearly extinct, or otherwise in a state of going to break out; which perhaps may be decided next lunation. The third shows an actual eruption of fire or luminous matter: its light is much brighter than the nucleus of the comet which M. Mechain discovered at Paris the 10th of this month." 

The following night he found it burnt with greater violence; and by measurement he found that the shining or burning matter must be more than 3 miles in diameter; being of an irregular round figure, and very sharply defined on the edges. The other two volcanoes resembled large faint nebulae, that are gradually much brighter in the middle; but no well-defined luminous spot was discovered in them. He adds, "the appearance of what I have called the actual fire, or eruption of a volcano, exactly resembled a small piece of burning charcoal when it is covered by a very thin coat of white ashes, which frequently adhere to it when it has been some time ignited; and it had a degree of brightness about as strong as that with which a coal would be seen to glow in faint day-light. 

In a letter by M. Lalande, it is said that, the 13th inst. from 7 to 9 in the evening, Dom. Nouet, one of the astronomers of the Royal Observatory, perceived, in the unenlightened part of the moon, what Dr. Herschel has called a volcano, like a star of the sixth magnitude, or one of the cloudy ones, the brightness of which increased from time to time, as if by flashes. Other astronomers have perceived it, and M. de Villeneuve had seen it before, on the 22d of May, 1787. We cannot therefore doubt of the existence of this volcano in the moon. Dr. Herschel saw it the 4th of May, 1783, and particularly the 19th of April, 1787. In the eclipse of the 24th of June, 1778, M. d'Ulloa, a well-known Spanish astronomer, had seen on the dark disc of the moon, a bright point; and in the total eclipse of 1715, certain curious observers had perceived some flashes of light. 

There is no sensible atmosphere in the moon, it is true, and chemists may dispute about the name of volcanoes being given to such apparent eruption; but the name after all is of no consequence, and we must certainly subscribe to Dr. Herschel's opinion. This volcano is situated on the north-east part of the moon, about three minutes from the moon's border, towards the spot called Helicon, marked No. 12 in the figure of the moon in Lalande's astronomy. On the next day, March the 14th, Jupiter had been eclipsed by the moon. This rare and curious phenomena has been observed by all astronomers. 

from A Treatise on Atmospheric Electricity, 1830

(Page 30)

During the month of July last we had the pleasure of witnessing this very curious phenomenon, in the marshy grounds between Hertford and Stevenage, when on the mail, coming from London northward. The day had been dense and sultry, and toward evening a stratum of vapour hovered over the marshes of the valley. On the right two ignes fatui started up suddenly, and at some distance apart; the appearance was altogether that of a solid ignited nucleus, diffusing brilliant radii around it. Their locality, as far as could be determined, seemed to be clumps of rushes. At one period there appeared to be a flitting flickering motion, somewhat resembling that of a hovering insect; but this was not continued. The phenomenon lasted several minutes, and both were suddenly extinguished, the one after the other. 

It seemed to us difficult to conceive of electricity being presented under the attendant phenomenon with which these were accompanied, and the entire features were more analogous to those of an insect powerfully illuminated; but whether some insect allied to the tribe termed Gryllus gryllotalpa, or mole cricket, has the power, under peculiar circumstances, as the Rev. Dr. Sutton has conjectured, of evolving light, seems not altogether determined: this phenomenon might be adduced to plead in its favour, thus the scolopendra electrica is occasionally luminous, when excited. 

We find that a gentleman observed a similar phenomenon to that described, in low marshy ground, after a sultry day and a dense evening fog; it had also to his vision all the appearance of a solid ignited body. We have also witnessed a lambent flame gliding on the surface of a stagnant lake, but are of opinion this last is altogether distinct from the other, and depends on different principles. 

from The Aerial World, 1875

(page 322; The Ignus Fatuus.)

... the ignis fatuus are the low-born progeny of bogs and stagnant waters. There is something spectral or ghost-like about their desultory wanderings in the midnight gloom of marshes and burying-grounds, and they thus furnish superstition with ample matter for many a dismal legend. Often have they been taken by the horror-struck wanderer who saw them moving among the tombs for departed spirits unable to find rest in the grave; and in Scotland, where they are called Elf-candles, they are supposed to portend the death of some inmate of the house near which they make their final appearance. According to another very common belief, they are goblins of a malignant nature who, by the delusion of a hospitable light, mislead the benighted traveller into some deep morass, where he meets with a miserable end; and it is to this superstitious notion, alluded to by Goldsmith, that the ignis fatuus of the naturalist owes its popular name of Will-with-the-wisp or Jack-with-a-lantern. 

'Turn, gentle Hermit of the dale,
  And guide my lonely way
To where yon taper cheers the vale,
  With hospitable ray.'

'Forbear, my son,' the Hermit cries,
  'To tempt the dangerous gloom;
For yonder faithless phantom flies
  To lure thee to thy doom.'

from Researches in Natural History, 1830

(page 120; Chap. X., Light emitted from vegetation, etc.)

What have been called "shooting stars," and found sparkling on the ground, seem to be the tremella meteorica, and have been observed apparently to fall from the air. Thus on the night previous to the battle of Brandywine, a shooting star was observed by one of the sentinels to fall at no great distance; it proved to be a sparkling gelatinous mass.

from The Philosophy of Storms, 1841

(page 408; excerpt from a letter, from Mr. Auter, Professor of Mathematics, in the College of Orotava. Dated November 10th, 1826.)

About two o'clock in the morning, I saw a light resembling an aurora borealis, but more bright. Streaks of light shot from the centre to the north of my house, which reached to the forty-second degree. The interposition of the convent of St. Francis, prevented me from seeing the focus of these phosphorescent lights, which lasted from seven to eight minutes, and disappeared again for a quarter of an hour. This luminous phenomenon was very interesting, and I watched to try to discover the cause. The light appeared again, more brilliant and more extended than before, and this time, the focus had changed its position, although concealed by the hills on the coast. This light disappeared again to show itself in different places. All continued to attract my attention, when I saw globes of fire in different directions. These new meteors crossed quickly in diameter, but they did not shoot out so much light as at first, they seemed to float on the waves; some seemed at several leagues from the shore, whilst the others shot streaks behind the elevation on the coast. 

In turning to the south west, I perceived some at the foot of the Tygayga Mountains, about a league from the coast, and, no doubt, there were others, in other directions on the heights which overlooked the valley. These meteors disappeared at four o'clock in the morning. 

from The Philosophy of Storms, 1841

(page 412; excerpt from Mr. Alison's Narrative of an Excursion to the Summit of the Peak of Teneriffe, in February, 1829.)

At half past two on the morning of the 7th, Mr. Auber observed several globes of fire moving upon the sea, at various distances from the shore, whilst others remained stationary. One of them, from its position, appeared to be on the top of the Montaneta of Realejo, and caused him to suppose that that extinct volcano was going to threaten the valley of Orotava with an eruption; but he was soon undeceived, by observing that the globe moved about on the surface of the water like the others, and at some distance from the spot where he first thought it was situated. These luminous globes appeared to move towards the south west, and follow the direction of the waves. The light which they spread in the atmosphere, extended more than 45° high; and although he was three miles off, it was often sufficiently strong to enable him to read rather small print; but no detonation was heard. 

The number of globes increased from half past two o'clock till four, when they began to diminish. Mr. Auber, at one period of his observation, counted fourteen moving about at one time, but the glare of light which he perceived on his right, where the surrounding houses bounded his view, caused him to supposed their number to be much more considerable. Their duration was from one minute, to five or six, but seldom longer; and their apparent diameter was about half that of the moon at her full, when she reaches the zenith. 

When they had all disappeared, the darkness was extreme, and he could not see the neighboring houses; but a quarter of an hour afterwards, the reappearance of the same globes, or the formation of new ones, allowed him to see the island of Palma, though nearly sixty miles distant. The rain fell with equal force whilst these globes were appearing on the sea and after their disappearance. 

from The Theosophist, 1890

(page cii)

The Buddha Rays at Badulla—In our Supplement for August 1887, a letter from the High Priest Sumungula adverting, among other things, to the extraordinary fact that the luminous phenomenon known as the Buddha Rays (Buddharasni) had occurred at Badulla on the full-moon day of that year—Buddha's birth-day. The High-Priest states in his letter that pupils of his own monastery had, in common with some thousand other spectators, seen the rays. I have just been able to corroborate this statement by the personal testimony of one of these pupils, and one of the most respected and trustworthy of the younger men in the monastery. At my request he has prepared the condensed statement hereunder printed. What gives additional value to the certificate is the fact that the young monk was thoroughly sceptical as to the possibility of the alleged recurrence of the luminous phenomenon on the Buddhist Christmas, though backed by the testimony of countless pilgrims who averred that they had personally seen it in former years. This incredulity led him to carefully examine the light he describes from each of the four sides of his dagoba. His letter is as follows:—

"Having heard of the emanation of Buddha's Rays from this dagoba, I undertook a pilgrimage thereto, reaching Badulla on the 6th of May 1887, about 7:30 a.m., which hour the sun was shining brightly on the dagoba with nothing unusual to be seen. Soon after my arrival the assembled pilgrims, who numbered about two hundred, commenced the usual ceremony of marching thrice around the dagoba to the accompaniment of drums. 

"Being incredulous of the truth of these phenomenon, and desiring to be in a position which could not possibly render me subject to any optical delusion, I moved around to the west side of the dagoba, standing in its shadow. At that moment I heard the cry of Sadhu from the pilgrims, and looking up saw what looked like two or three small, bright stars rising slowly from the north side of the dagoba. These gradually increased in number, the most of them coming from the south side. There simultaneously appeared what resembled a rainbow in color, which was distinctly visible during the whole time; not stretching across the top of the dagoba but shaping itself to its contour and hovering over the emanations which certainly came from the body of the dagoba. 

"The phenomenon lasted about 1 1/2 hours, the rainbow disappearing with the emanation from the dagoba."

(Signed) Rambuppola Pannasara

It is very hard to reconcile this emanation of light with any hypothesis of science. Though it occurred in full daylight and under the glare of a tropical sun, yet the total absence of condensed vapor in the atmosphere forbids our supposing the colours to have been due, like those of the rainbow, to a refraction of light. There is this further dissimilarity between it and the rainbow, that the chromatic spectrum which the priest saw in space at a distance of some ten feet above the dagoba was not formed in an arc but followed the curves of the mound with its terminal square splinth and spike. Moreover the observer saw the colors clearest from the west side—facing towards the sun, and he also saw them from the south side. Clearly, then, this could not have been an effect of luminous refraction, even had there been a misty vapor hanging about the spot, which there was not.

Still another point is noticeable—the radiant tints were visible during the space of two hours; and any one who has seen the sunlight of the tropics will easily conceive of the vividness of chromatic effect which could display itself in spite of the blaze of sunlight. From the private explanations of the young monk I learn that the effect of the phenomenon upon the feelings of the pilgrim multitude was most marked and moving. With one accord they prostrated themselves uttered the Buddhistic cry of "Sadhu" and recited the verses of their religious worship with great fervency. I wish I could feel sure that their moral natures had been so upheaved as to guarantee a radical improvement in their lives. 

from The Annual Register, 1823

(page 678)

Phenomenon attending the Earthquake at Zante—At the time when the desolating earthquake, that lately occurred at Zante, took place, a remarkable circumstance was observed just preceding the shock. Three or four minutes before, there was seen, at the distance of two miles from the point or promontory of Geraca, which is to the South-east of the island, a kind of meteor burning, and almost swimming on the sea, and which continued luminous five or six minutes; at the distance from which it was seen, it seemed to be five or six feet in diameter. 

from The Annual Register, 1823

(page 678)

M. Doe being surprised by night in the forest near Boulancourt, in the neighborhood of Brienne, department de l'Aube, was witness to a very brilliant luminous phenomenon which took place in a neighbouring marsh. It began about two o'clock in the morning, apparently at one of the openings of the wood on the western side, while the sky was serene, the stars brilliant, and the air calm and temperate. The fire burnt quietly without jets or undulations, in the form of a quadrangular pyramid. The colour of the flame was a pale red, verging on white, and the appearance of the whole like sunset, when it takes place behind a red cloud girt by a dark zone. It was found to be a marsh of half a league in extent, traversed by ditches, which furnished the phosphorous matter of the flame. The greatest height of the luminous matter was 10 or 12 feet; there was no heat, but it was bright enough to read by. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

from Nature, 1893

(page 76)

An Atmospheric Phenomenon in the North China Sea

During a recent wintry cruise in H.M.S. Caroline in the North China Sea, a curious phenomenon was seen which may be of interest to your readers. The ship was on passage between Shanghai and the western entrance of the famous inland sea of Japan. On 24th February, at 10 p.m., when in latitude 32° 58' N., longitude 126° 33" E., which, on reference to the map, will be seen to be sixteen to seventeen miles south of Quelpart island (south of the Korean peninsula) some unusual lights were reported by the officer of the watch between the ship and Mount Auckland, a mountain 6,000 feet high. It was a windy, cold, moonlight night. My first impression was that they were either some fires on shore, apparently higher from the horizon than a ship's masthead, or some junk's "flare up" lights raised by mirage. To the naked eye they appeared sometimes as a mass; at others, spread out in an irregular line, and, being globular in form, they resembled Chinese lanterns festooned between the masts of a lofty vessel. They bore north (magnetic), and remained on that bearing until lost sight of about midnight. As the ship was passing the land to the eastward at the rate of seven knots an hour, it soon became obvious that the lights were not on the land, though observed with the mountain behind them. 

On the following night, February 25th, about the same time, 10 p.m., the ship having cleared Port Hamilton, was steering east, on the parallel of 34°, when these curious lights were again observed on the same bearing, at an altitude of 3° or 4° above the horizon. It was a clear, still, moonlight night, and cold. On this occasion there was no land in sight on a north bearing when the lights were first observed, but soon afterwards a small islet was passed, which for the time eclipsed the lights. As the ship steamed on at a rate of seven knots an hour, the lights maintained a constant bearing (magnetic) of N.2°W, as if carried by some vessel travelling in the same direction and at the same speed. The globes of fire altered in their formation as on the previous night, now in a  massed group, with an outlying light away to the right, then the isolated one would disappear, and the others would take the form of a crescent or diamond, and hang festoon-fashion in a curved line. A clear reflection or glare could be seen on the horizon beneath the lights. Through a telescope the globes appeared to be of a reddish colour, and to emit a thin smoke. 

I watched them for several hours, and could distinguish no perceptible alteration in their bearing or altitude, the changes occurring only in their relative formation, but each light maintained its oval, globular form. 

They remained in sight from 10 p.m. until daylight (about 5.30 a.m.). When lost sight of the bearing was one or two points to the westward of north. At daylight land 1300 feet high was seen to the north and north-north-west, distant fifty miles, the mirage being extraordinary.

Thus, these lights were seen first in longitude 126° 33' E., and last in longitude 128° 29' E. At first the land was behind them, but during the greater part of the distance run it was forty-five or fifty miles away to the north; and the bearing of the lights for at least three-fourths of the distance did not change. 

On arrival at Kobé I read in a daily paper that the "Unknown light of Japan" had, as was customary at this season of the year when the weather is very cold, stormy, and clear, been observed by fishermen in the Shimbara Gulf and Japanese waters. The article went on to say that these lights were referred to in native school-books, and attributed to electrical phenomena. On mentioning the matter, however, to the leading Europeans in Yokohama and Tokio, they appeared to have no knowledge of the matter. 

Captain Castle, of H.M.S. Leander, informed me that, not long ago, the officers of his ship saw lights in the same locality which they thought at first were caused by a ship on fire. The course of the vessel was altered at once with a view of rendering assistance, but finding that the lights increased their altitude as he approached, he attributed them to some volcanic disturbance, and being pressed for time, resumed his course. 

The background of high land seen on the first night dispels all idea of these extraordinary lights being due to a distant volcano. The uniformity of the bearing renders the theory of their being fires on the shore most improbable. I am inclined to the belief that they were something in the nature of St. Elmo's fires. It is probable that there are travellers among the readers of your interesting journal who have seen or heard of this phenomenon, and will be able to describe its origin and the atmospheric conditions necessary for its appearance. 

Chas. J. Norcock, H.M.S. Caroline, Hongkong, April 10.

from Notes and Queries, 1891

(page 378)

Let me narrate a circumstance of which I had not only ocular demonstration, but which was seen at the same time by another person in my company. On Friday evening, October 26, 1888, about 6 p.m., when it was getting dusk, and when driving from Woodbridge to Newbourne, on crossing an extensive heath about a mile from the latter place, a bright light went over the road and back again, and this on three several occasions. This my driver also saw on my calling his attention to it, so there could be no doubt on the point. Strange to say, the pony was quite quiet, and did not in the least appear frightened by the vivid glare. The heath was on a perfectly dry soil, party covered with furze, and one had always understood that will-o'-the-wisp was only seen in marshy places. This, whatever it was, had more the appearance of a meteor, and I had some thoughts of applying to a scientific friend in Ipswich for an explanation, but kept deferring it, and never did so at all.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

from The Wonders of the World, 1856

(page 307)

On the fourth of October, of the above year, 1783, two meteors were seen in England. The first, at three in the morning, on account of the early hour, was witnessed by but few spectators, who represented it as rising from the north to a small altitude, and then becoming stationary with a vibratory motion, and an illumination like daylight; it vanished in a few moments, leaving a train behind. This sort of tremulous appearance has been noticed in other meteors, as well as their continuing stationary for some time, either before they begin to shoot, or after their course is ended. The second of these meteors appeared at forty-three minutes past six in the evening, and was much smaller, and also of much shorter duration, than the one seen in August. It was first observed to the north, like a stream of fire, similar to that of the common shooting-stars, but large; and having proceeded some distance under this form, suddenly burst out into that intensely bright bluish light, peculiar to such meteors, which may be most aptly compared to the blue lights of India, or to some of the largest electrical sparks. The illumination was very great; and on that part of its course where it had been so bright, a dusky red streak or train was left, which remained visible about a minute, and was though by some gradually to change its form. Except this train, the meteor had not any tail, but was nearly of a round body, or, perhaps, somewhat elliptical. After moving not less than ten degrees in this bright state, it because suddenly extinct, without any appearance of bursting or explosion. 

from The English Mechanic and World of Science, 1892

(page 34)

The British journalist can scarcely be accused of being behindhand in his accounts and announcements of marvellous phenomena in the heaves; for, to give a single example, "the Star of Bethlehem" crops up as regularly in the newspapers as the sea-serpent. But if we may judge from the following extract (which I translate from the Stockholm paper l'Aftonblad of the 9th), he, in our popular slang, "isn't in it" with his Swedish confreres. "In the environs of Hochland," says the paragraph in the Stockholm journal, "there was seen between 9 and 10 o'clock at night, in the direction of the North, to the west of the Great Bear, and pretty high up in the sky, a large star, which seemed to be of the first magnitude, and which rendered itself conspicuous by its extraordinary movement. At first it advanced with great rapidity, and in a straight line, towards the East for an estimated distance of 125 yds. (!), appearing then to be oblong, and approximately 12 in. long by about a quarter of that wide, and to be of a fiery red colour. It then returned to its first position; subsequently rising slowly, then descending considerably below it, and finishing by recovering it. It moved principally in straight lines, with a very slight elliptical curvature, but incessantly changing colour. This agitation (or movement) continued for 10 hours, when it ceased. The phenomenon was observed by several people. The sole hypothesis admissable at present," the writer goes on to say, "in the study of these meteors, which are bolides of which the trajectories are often perturbed in their initial direction, is that it may happen that after having encountered atmospheric strata of greater and greater density, the bolides experience a kind of ricochet, which prevents their further approach to the earth, and sends them back towards the upper regions of the atmosphere—circumstances which may occasion changes in the form and curvature of the trajectories of bolides. We must, nevertheless, add that the symmetry of the movement in the present phenomenon is without precedent in the catalogue which treats of these phenomena." I should think so. An elliptical bolide of a fiery red, but continually changing colour, which oscillates like a pendulum and remains visible for 10 hours!!! is not likely to be included in any "catalogue which treats of these phenomena."

from The Edinburgh Journal of Science, 1826

(Page 378)

Luminous Phenomenon observed between Paisley and Glasgow. On the morning of the 14th instant, about 6h 37'. I was gratified by the sight of a luminous globe or bolide, while going from Paisley to Glasgow. It was tranquilly stationary as if equipoised, and of a similar specific gravity with the plane it seemed to float upon. Its form was somewhat elliptical and translucent in consistency, faintly luminous. After a short while it discharged sparks, and this discharge was subsequently repeated, and by the impulse springing from the re-action of the atmosphere, the bolide moved from north to south, maintaining the horizontal plane, not in any section of the arc of a parabola. The star-like sparks were bright and silvery, and altogether expressive of having its dependence on an electro-magnetic principle. The night had been wet and tempestuous, and the entire day discovered a horizontal parallelism of the clouds in the distant sky; the clouds were chiefly cumulostrati. 

Thursday, December 4, 2008

from Journal of the Royal Geological Society of Ireland, 1864

(page 9)

Another very singular phenomenon was witnessed at Dhurmsalla on the evening of the same day that the aerolite fell. This appears to have been a succession of igneous meteors, such as fire-balls, or falling and shooting-stars. 

This singular sight did not attract the attention of most people. I quote the account (from the writer who describes it) verbatim—

“I think it was on the evening of the same day that that the meteor fell, that I observed lights in the air; they commenced to appear about 7 p.m. and lasted about three hours till 10. They appeared for about one minute, some for longer, then went out again; other lights appeared in the same place. Sometimes three or four lights appeared in the same place together, and one or two moved off, the others remaining stationary; they looked like fire-balloons, but appeared in places where it was impossible for there to have been any house, or any roads where people could have been; some were high up in the air, moving like fire-balloons, but the greater part of them were in the distance in the direction of the lower hills in front of my house, others were closer to the house, and between Sir Alexander Lawrence's and the barracks. I am sure, from some which I observed closely, that they were neither fire-balloons, lanterns, nor bonfires, or any other thing of that sort, but bona fide lights in the heavens. Though I made enquiries amongst the natives the next day, I have never been able to find out what they were, or the cause of their appearance.”

from Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts, 1809

(page 162)

November, 1809. Account of some luminous Meteors seen during a Thunder Storm. In a letter from James Staveley, Esq. 


Retiring rather late to bed last night, and throwing up the window to admire the beauty of the lightning, I was struck with the appearance of the sky, the grandeur and singularity of which I never remember to have been equalled. The time was about half past one o'clock. Considering that facts of this kind are at all times acceptable to the meteorologist, and that this may perhaps serve to elucidate some of the mysteries of that science yet unfathomed, if you have no better account of the phenomenon, may I offer this for a place in your valuable Journal?

The whole surface of the heavens seemed covered with one unbroken mass of black pitchy cloud, in which the very vivid flashes of lightning, that almost instantaneously succeeded each other, showed no break; and from which, but from inferior regions, they did not seem to issue. Over, or rather (to speak more properly) below this apparent surface, were spread light and flocky clouds, broken into large fleeces, white and apparently luminous throughout. I looked round that I might find whence proceeded the light that illuminated them; for they seemed as summer clouds in a bright sun, and as the clouds have appeared today. I could perceive no light. Every other part of the hemisphere was totally dark. 

Looking fixedly at them, I fancied, that they seemed full of little dazzling and dancing specks of light, that sometimes shone as stars peeping through a misty cloud. Some of these increased gradually, and as gradually died away. One in particular became more and more distinctly visible, and increased in size, till it reached the brilliancy and magnitude of Venus, as she shines in a clear evening; and yet, there seemed no body of the light. At first I thought it must be some star; and it was with difficulty, that I renounced the idea. But such it could not have been; for when these clouds had passed away, and when the intensity of the black masses above became diminished, when they seemed only concealed by a dark and thick haze, none of them became visible. To be certain that the motion, that, I fancied, I observed it to have, did not proceed from the motion of the cloud, and was not deceitfully produced to me, from the swimming and indistinctness of vision necessarily occasioned in my eyes by the quick and vivid flashes of lightning, that encircled the whole horizon, I brought the meteor to a bearing with the window frame, and by that means distinctly ascertained its movement, and, that it was with considerable rapidity. I observed it coast, if I may use the expression, and, having again become stationary, diminish from its full splendor till it disappeared. Its duration must have been of minutes. 

After a short interval I had an opportunity of observing another of these meteors in a similar cloud, though at a considerable distance; and of which, though it behaved much as the former had done, I was not able so distinctly to mark the motion. 

During this time, these, and during the space of half an hour at least, similar clouds, were full of these little luminous innumerable points, which, playing incessantly, gave them an appearance similar to that, which is exhibited in a clear sky by the galaxy. 

I have already said, that, when these had passed away, and the pitchy clouds also, which moved in the same direction, though not so rapidly, I could discern no stars whatever, and I took no small pains to spy out any, as they might have furnished me with a solution to the phenomenon. There was no flash of lightning broke from these clouds, but they emitted much light of a pale phosphoric colour, and such seemed the kind of light, that formed the body of the meteors. These clouds were at a very considerable distance beneath the higher stratum, and at no great elevation in the atmosphere, and though, after the interval of an hour, some of the most vivid flashes proceeded from this point in the heavens, yet do I conceive no connection between them and the clouds; as the latter had clean passed away, in an easterly direction, or with a few points north. Another thing I must mention, that as they tended to a greater distance, their brilliancy gradually diminished. 

Along with this account I have enclosed a sketch of the phenomena, wherein, though guilty of an anachronism, having in the same moment of time shown the two meteors, I may be pardoned, as I have tolerably preserved the relative bearings of distances, and, as nearly as in such a sketch I could, the respective forms of the masses of cloud. The course of the first I have marked by making it luminous throughout; and note, that its first appearance was to the eastward, which in this sketch being the left hand, the position will be best seen when the sketch is held in the position of observation, above the head. It is on a very proportionally small scale, as at least 35 degrees are included within it, and the spots noted for the meteors proportionally as large, as was the halo that seemed to surround them. I am afraid to have dilated too much; yet, not seeing where I can curtail the description, leave for you, Sir, to lop off any superfluous matter. 

There was no rain at the time of observation. 

I am, Sir, 

Your humble servant, 


Hatton Garden,
11 Aug. 1809.

P.S. As these meteors increased in size, they seemed to descend, and had much of that semblance, which the phantasmagorial spectres have, as they seem to approach the spectator.

from The Quarterly Journal of Science and the Arts, 1818

(page 133)

Luminous Meteor—On Sunday the 15th of February, at six o'clock in the evening, whilst a number of the inhabitants of the town of Agen, in France, were collected together to view the ascent of a baloon [sic], a luminous meteor similar to those called bolides appeared, and was observed by the whole of them. 

The sky was serene, the moon dimmed by clouds, and the wind at south-east; a brilliant flash of lightning occurred, and a twisted luminous train was seen, which ascended obliquely, and appeared to lengthen from one end only. This phenomenon disappeared, and was succeeded by a contorted long white cloud, extending north and south. 

In four or five seconds this cloud gathered together, and then slowly divided into two parts, one of which remained nearly stationary, whilst the other moved off towards the north. A dull rolling sound was then heard similar to the noise of a carriage. The time which elapsed between the appearance of the lightning and the thunder, or noise, was very nearly two minutes and thirty seconds. 

The cloud appeared at an angle of sixty-five degrees nearly, and was observed for more than a quarter of an hour. It moved from east to west, as did the other clouds, but more rapidly. 

from The Quarterly Journal of Science and the Arts, 1818

(page 133)

Luminous Phenomenon—The following phenomenon was observed near Arberg, in the kingdom of Wirtemberg. Several long luminous rays, probably phosphoric, issued from the earth upwards, and after shedding brilliancy around them gradually grew paler and became extinct. 

from Glasgow Mechanics' Magazine, 1826

(page 255)

Luminous Meteor—On the 2d of January 1825, about 5 o'clock in the evening, M. Antonio Brucalassi, observed between S. Giovanni and Montevarchi, a singular electrical phenomenon. About an hundred paces off, and at the height of ten fathoms or less from the ground appeared, on a sudden, a luminous meteor of the form of a truncated cone. This meteor appeared to be formed by a globe of fire situated in its fore part, which was the narrower, and which, by its rapid motion, left behind a track of light, which gave it the appearance of a cone. This light became gradually less intense towards the base and seemed to be split into rays issuing from the opposite extremity. The whole of the surface was illuminated, an sent out brilliant sparks, like those of electricity, although in the effect shewn, they rather resembled the appearance of iron filings when thrown upon a flame. The whole length of the meteor appeared to be about two fathoms, and the diameter of its base half a fathom. It proceeded from East to West, rather inclining, from the horizontal position, towards the earth; it moved with great rapidity, in 5 seconds going over a space of about 350 paces;—and as it moved it shed a most brilliant light upon a considerable extent of land which it illuminated as in full day light. Its emanations were lost in the air; it did not produce any explosive or hissing noise, and it left no smell behind it; it occurred in a calm, cold night, during a clear sky, and a great number of shooting stars were observed before and after the appearance of this phenomenon.”

from Glasgow Mechanics' Magazine, 1826

(page 255)

Luminous Phenomenon observed between Paisley and Glasgow—It gives us much pleasure to observe, in Dr. Brewster's journal, that Mr. Murray has been gratified by the sight of a luminous globe, while he was going from Paisley to Glasgow. It was of an elliptical form, and somewhat stationary in its situation; after some time, it discharged sparks and this was subsequently repeated; from the re-action of the earth, Mr. Murray says it moved from north to south, maintaining the direction of the horizontal plane. The sparks were star-like, bright, silvery, and void of any chromatic tint. This Meteor, which was interesting and beautiful, Mr. Murray thinks was wholly dependent on an Electro-Magnetic principle; the night had been wet and tempestuous, and the whole day had discovered the clouds of the distant sky of a horizontal parallelism. It is a pity Mr. Murray has not published the exact day on which this Meteor appeared, in case it should have escaped the notice of the philosophers of the west, who think the “14th instant” of a Quarterly Journal not so precise as they could wish.

from Medical Times, 1842

(page 253)

Major Bonnycastle, in his Canadian Tour, gives an account of a very singular electrical phenomenon observed by him upon the ocean. He says: “About two in the morning the mate roused all the sleepers in their hammocks, by calling loudly for the master to come on deck, as he observed a most unusual appearance on the lee-bow. The weather had been cold, but there was a clear, starry firmament, when in a moment the heavens became overcast to the southward, and an instantaneous and intensely bright light, resembling a fiery aurora, shot out of the sea, and rendered everything minutely discernible, even to the masthead. The mate and his watch immediately put the helm down, calling up the whole crew, and awakened the captain; but before this was accomplished the light had spread more vividly than ever over the whole sea, and the waves, hitherto tranquil, became much agitated, while thick, dark clouds from the land seemed to threaten dreadful weather. The spectacle continued to increase in beauty; the whole sea, as far as could be seen, was at length one entire sheet of an awfully brilliant flame, above which shone along the base of the high, frowning, and dark land abreast of them, a long and magnificent line of fire. The fish, plentiful in these latitudes, and of a large size, seemed alarmed; long tortuous darting lines of light, in a contrary direction to the sea, showed immense numbers of large fish flying about as if they were lost. The wind, which had increased a little, had a peculiar hollow sound; and after a length of time passed in contemplating this splendid and extraordinary scene, day broke slowly, the sun rising very fiery and gloomily. To sail on a sea of fire,” the writer observes, “is the only similitude I can fancy to this really awful scene. I have frequently seen the waters of the ocean on fire, as it is vulgarly termed; but then only in small masses, and no more to be compared to what we there witnessed than a November day, when the sun passes murkily through the fog of England, is to the bright and glorious appearance of that luminary on a fine day in the tropics.”

from Nature, 1884

(page 360)

The following account I have received from a lady at Brühl near Cologne, July 26:—"8.22. A large fireball of scarlet fire almost as large as a harvest moon just sailed along and upwards, at a varying but mostly very rapid rate, until, at a great height, it remained for some minutes almost or quite stationary; then after some uncertain movements rose again, and rising, became smaller, until it finally disappeared. Every one who saw it seemed petrified with amazement.” This is of interest from the long time that the ball was visible, and its being seen by several people. 

from The Intellectual Observer, 1864

(page 160)

Now and then, however, the meteor lasts for a minute. Much more remarkable cases are, however, recorded. Thus, on the 7th January, 1856, at 4:50 p.m., a fire-ball appeared in the sky in the South of England, being seen at various places between Wiltshire and the east of Kent. The sky was clear, and the fire-ball appeared to burst out from the sky as a brilliant globe of light. It remained visible everywhere for more than ten minutes before it finally disappeared. In Wiltshire it was seen for twenty minutes, at Brighton for fifteen minutes, at Sevenoaks for ten minutes, and at Blackheath for the same time. Its size was estimated at four times the diameter of Jupiter. In most places it suddenly appeared from the clear sky, but at Blackheath it emerged from, and was lost behind clouds. This very remarkable meteor is one of the best and most distinctly recorded of those which have been seen at great distances apart, and which, being seen for some time, could be clearly identified. 

from Notes and Queries, 1875

(page 306) Strange Lights in Wales — A gentleman writes from Pwllheli, a coast town in Carnarvonshire, to the Field newspaper of Feb. 20, as follows:

“Some few days ago we witnessed here what we have never seen before—certain lights, eight in number, extending over, I should say, a distance of 8 miles; all seemed to keep their own ground, although moving in horizontal, perpendicular, and zig-zag directions. Sometimes they were of a light blue colour, then like the bright light of a carriage lamp, then almost like an electric light, and going out altogether, in a few minutes would appear again dimly, and come up as before. One of my keepers, who is nearly 70 years of age, has not, nor has any one else in this vicinity, seen the same before. Can any one of your numerous readers inform me whether they are will-o’-the-wisps, or what? We have seen three at a time afterwards on four or five occasions.”

from Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1855

(page 89) On an Appearance seen in the Moon, by Robert Hart, Esq. (Letter to the Astronomer Royal.)

“On the night of the 27th December, 1854, between 6 and 7 p.m., the moon was very bright. I had brought my 10-inch reflector to bear upon the moon; on the shaded side of the disk I observed a white spot, where I have marked it on the sketch. As it was of the colour of the light of the moon, and not like starlight, I thought it part of the moon; but as it disappeared in less than a minute after I first observed it, I concluded it was a star eclipsed by the moon. I now turned my attention to the light part of the disk, and my eye was at once attracted by an appearance I had never seen before on the surface of the moon, although I have observed her often during these last forty years. She was 8d 4h old at the time, and just on the edge of the light, where I have marked on the sketch, there were two luminous spots, on on either side of a small ridge, which ridge was in the light, and of the same colour as of the moon; but these spots were of a yellow flame colour, while all the rest of the enlightened part was of a snowy white, and the mountain-tops that were coming into the light, and just on the shadow side of the spots, were the same colour as the moon. The lights of these spots were like the light of the setting sun reflected from a window a mile or two off. I observed it for five hours. I thought them rather less bright than as first seen, but very little less; so bright were they, when the instrument was the least thing out of focus, they showed rays around them as a star would do.

“It appeared to me, from the brightness of the light and the contrast of colour, to be two active volcanoes or two mouths of one in action.