Saturday, April 5, 2008

from Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society, 1847

(page lxix)

Moozuffer, 25th January, 1849—I cannot permit this opportunity to pass by without describing to you, in the best way I am able, a most extraordinary phenomena which we all witnessed on the night of the 23rd instant. It would indeed require a far abler and more scientific pen than mine to do justice to it—however, I hope you will take the will for the deed, and pardon all imperfections.

At 6:30 p.m. observed a very remarkable milky appearance in the water, the color assuming the same tint as a shallow mud-bank or sand-bank. The sea, which had a few minutes before been turbulent and confused, suddenly became smooth and placid, and the air felt cold and chilly. In the space of an hour the whole verge of the horizon, as far as the eye could reach, was most brilliantly illuminated. The vessel shortly after entered a vast body of water of the most dazzling brightness, and of a highly phosphorescent nature; in fact it looked as if we were sailing over a boundless plain of snow, or a sea of quicksilver. The surface of the ocean for miles in extent was unbroken—not a wave or ripple disturbed it, and the waters seemed so dense and solid, that the Moozuffer actually appeared as if she was forcing her way through molten lead. That part of the surface which was broken by the stroke of our huge paddle-wheels, resembled small patches of thick milk or cream. The sky, and everything around us, was quite lighted up by it.

The weather was particularly fine, though the atmosphere was damp and moist: the wind was light from the N.W., stars over head clear and light, but those of a lesser altitude were rendered dim by the haze. The horizon nearly the whole time was dark, and ill-defined; a few thin cumuli, floating very low down, occasionally swept past; but no other peculiarity in the atmosphere could be perceived until about ten o’clock, when a singular light was seen in the heavens to the northward, as if day was dawning, or the full moon was either setting or just rising. It strongly resembled a faint Aurora Borealis, being of a roseate tinge near the horizon, and was a steady fixed light, but without those corruscations which are usually observed in the higher latitudes. It extended along the horizon in the form of a segment of a circle from N.W. to N.E., and the altitude of the centre of the arch was 15°. It continued visible until a few minutes after midnight, when it disappeared as suddenly as it appeared, and the sea about the same period lost also its luminous quality. The light in the heavens, and the lightness of the sea, were, however, again seen for about ten minutes at two a.m., when both became once more invisible. The horizon, except where the light appeared, was everywhere dark and indistinct, and could not be made out; the sky and sea were apparently blended together.

The phenomena was altogether as beautiful as it was extraordinary. I could have stood on the deck gazing at it the whole night, and should not have felt fatigued. There was something grand and sublime in such a scene as I have faintly endeavored to portray. No language of mine could ever do justice to it. We were upwards of six hours in passing through this vast body of luminous water, and during that time we ran a distance of upwards of forty miles.

... the light seen in the heavens I cannot account for, unless it was the low fleecy clouds which hung on the verge of the horizon that reflected back the brightness of the sea; but why the whole sky should not have assumed the same appearance, I cannot imagine. It continued to shine in one spot only, and disappeared at the same time the sea lost its brilliancy.

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