Saturday, March 29, 2008

from The Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings Manual, 1882

(Page 116)

In the years 1866, 1867 and 1868, there were also extraordinary meteoric displays on the night of November I3th. It was on the last mentioned date that I had the opportunity to observe the remarkable shower of shooting-stars of which I have attempted to represent all the characteristic points in Plate XII. My observations were begun a little after midnight, and continued without interruption till sun-rise. Over three thousand meteors were observed during this interval of time in the part of the sky visible from a northern window of my house. The maximum fall occurred between four and five o'clock, when they appeared at a mean rate of 15 in a minute.

In general, the falling stars were quite large, many being superior to Jupiter in brightness and apparent size, while a few even surpassed Venus, and were so brilliant that opaque objects cast a strong shadow during their flight. A great many left behind them a luminous train, which remained visible for more or less time after the nucleus had vanished. In general, these meteors appeared to move either in straight or slightly curved orbits; but quite a number among them exhibited very extraordinary motions, and followed very complicated paths, some of which were quite incomprehensible.

While some moved either in wavy or zig-zag lines, strongly accentuated, others, after moving for a time in a straight line, gradually changed their course, curving upward or downward, thus moving in a new direction. Several among them, which were apparently moving in a straight line with great rapidity, suddenly altered their course, starting at an abrupt angle in another direction, with no apparent slackening in their motion. One of them, which was a very conspicuous object, was moving slowly in a straight course, when of a sudden it made a sharp turn and continued to travel in a straight line, at an acute angle with the first, retreating, and almost going back towards the regions from which it originally came. As nearly all the meteors which exhibited these extraordinary motions left the trace of their passage in the sky by a luminous trail, it was easily ascertained that these appearances were not deceptive. On one occasion I noticed that the change of direction in the orbit corresponded with the brightening up of the meteor thus disturbed in its progress.

Among these meteors, some traveled very slowly, and a few seemed to advance as if by jerks, but in general they moved very rapidly. One of the meteors thus appearing to move by jerks left a luminous trail, upon which the various jerks seemed to be left impressed by a succession of bright and faint spaces along the train. Some of the largest meteors appeared to rotate upon an axis as they advanced, and most of these revolving meteors, as also a great number of the others, seemed to explode just before they disappeared, sending bright fiery sparks of different colors in all directions, although no sound was at any time heard. The largest and most brilliant meteor observed on that night appeared at 5h. 30m., a little before sunrise. It was very bright, and appeared considerably larger than Venus, having quite a distinct disk. This meteor moved very slowly, leaving behind a large phosphorescent trail, which seemed to issue from the inside of the nucleus as it advanced. For a moment the train increased in size and brightness close to the nucleus, which then appeared as an empty transparent sphere, sprinkled all over with minute fiery sparks ; the nucleus then suddenly burst out into luminous particles, which immediately vanished, only the luminous trail of considerable dimensions being left.

Many of the trails thus left by the meteors retained their luminosity for several minutes, and sometimes for over a quarter of an hour. These trails slowly changed their form and position; but it is perhaps remarkable that almost all those which I observed on that night assumed the same general form—that of an open, irregular ring, or horse-shoe, somewhat resembling the letter C. This ring form was subsequently transformed into an irregular, roundish cumulus-like cloud. The trail left by a very large meteor, which I observed on the evening of September 5th, 1880, also exhibited the same general character of transformation.

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