The annual Leonid meteor shower is approaching its peak over North America this Friday night into Saturday morning. This year the viewing should be good with a waxing crescent moon setting before the show, leaving the sky dark. It won’t, however, compare to the most spectacular Leonid’s show on record, the Great Meteor Storm of 1833. Only visible over the Americas, records claim there were over a hundred thousand meteors falling per hour during that year’s storm. For comparison, this year we can expect to see only a few dozen meteors per hour, according to astronomy.com.
The shower in 1833 was notable enough to be recorded by Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, among others. Tubman referred to it as, “the night the stars fell.” People were both awed and terrified by the spectacle, some believing it to herald the end of the world or God’s Judgement Day. Others chose to interpret it as a sign from God, and of course, God was saying whatever they wanted him to say. Among the scientific community, the storm launched the modern study of meteor showers. Imagine what great works of fiction might have resulted had H.G. Wells or Jules Verne been around to witness this celestial phenomenon!
It is hard to imagine witnessing something like that before truly understanding what it was. I have a feeling I would be pretty freaked out – like, gotta wash my bloomers out the next day freaked out. Would you be frightened or awe-struck? Would the event be more or less spectacular to you if didn’t understand the science of what was happening?