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The most important of the periodic fall of Shooting Stars occurring in this month, we extract from “ Cosmos an interesting passage relating to them.
"Shooting-stars," says Humboldt, " fall either separately and in inconsiderable numbers, that is sporadically, or in swarms of many thousands. The latter, which are compared by Arabian authors to swarms of locusts, are periodic in their occurrence, and move in streams, generally in a parallel direction. Amongst periodic falls, the most celebrated are known as the November phenomenon, occurring from about the 12th to the 14th of November, and that of the festival of St. Lawrence (the 10th of August), whose ‘fiery tears' were noticed in former times in a church calendar of England, no less than in the old traditionary legends, as a meteorological event of constant recurrence. Notwithstanding the great quantity of shooting-stars and fire-balls of the most various dimensions, which according to Klöden, were seen to fall at Potsdam, on the night between the 12th and 13th of November, 1822, and on the same night of the year in 1832, throughout the whole of Europe ; from Portsmouth to Orenburgh on the Ural River, and even in the Southern Hemisphere, as in the Isle of France; no attention was directed to the periodicity of the phenomenon, and no idea seems to have been entertained of the connection existing between the fall of shooting-stars and the recurrence of certain days, until the prodigious swarm of shooting-stars which occurred in North America, between the 12th and 13th of November, 1833, and was observed by Olmsted and Palmer. The stars fell, on this occasion, like flakes of snow, and it was calculated that at least 240,000 had fallen during a period of nine hours. Palmer, of Newhaven, Connecticut, was led, in consequence of this splendid phenomenon, to the recollection of the fall of meteoric stones in 1799, first described by Ellicot and myself, and which, by a comparison of the facts I had adduced, showed that the phenomenon had been
* Bohn's translation, vol. i. p. 111, et seq.
simultaneously seen in the New Continent, from the equator, to New Herrnhut in Greenland, 64° 14' lat., and between 46° and 82o long. The identity of the epoch was recognised with astonishment. The stream, which had been seen from Jamaica to Boston (40° 21' lat.) to traverse the whole vault of heaven on the 12th and 13th of November, 1833, was again observed in the United States in 1834, on the night between the 13th and 14th of November, although on this latter occasion it showed itself with somewhat less intensity. In Europe the periodicity of the phenomenon has since been manifested with great regularity.
“Another and a like regularly recurring phenomenon is that noticed in the month of August, the meteoric stream of St. Lawrence appearing between the 9th and 14th of August. Muschenbroek, as early as in the middle of the last century, drew attention to the frequency of meteors in the month of August ; but their certain periodic return, about the time of St. Lawrence's day, was first shown by Quetelet, Olbers, and Benzenberg. We shall, no doubt, in time discover other periodically appearing streams, probably about the 22nd to the 25th of April, between the 6th and 12th of December, and, to judge by the number of true falls of aërolites enumerated by Capocci, also between the 27th and 29th of November, or about the 17th of July.
“Although the phenomena hitherto observed appear to have been independent of the distance from the pole, the temperature of the air, and other climatic relations, there is, however, one perhaps accidentally coincident phenomenon which must not be wholly disregarded. The Northern Light, the Aurora Borealis, was unusually brilliant on the occurrence of the splendid fall of meteors of the 12th and 13th of November, 1833, described by Olmsted. It was also observed at Bremen in 1838, where the periodic meteoric fall was, however, less remarkable than at Richmond, near London. I have mentioned in another work the singular fact observed by Admiral Wrangel, and frequently confirmed to me by himself, that when he was on the Siberian coast of the Polar sea, he observed during an Aurora Borealis, certain portions of the vault of heaven, which were not illuminated, light up, and continue luminous whenever a shooting-star passed over them.
“ The different meteoric streams, each of which is composed of myriads of small cosmical bodies, probably intersect our earth's orbit in the same manner as Biela's comet. According to this hypothesis, we may represent to ourselves these asteroid-meteors as composing a closed ring or zone, within which they all pursue one common orbit. The smaller planets between Mars and Jupiter, present us, if we except Pallas, with an analogous relation in these constantly intersecting orbits. As yet, however, we have no certain knowledge as to whether changes in the periods at which the stream becomes visible, or the retardations of the phenomena of which I have already spoken, indicate a regular percussion or oscillation of the nodes—that is to say, of the points of intersection of the earth's orbit and of that of the ring; or whether this ring or zone attains so considerable a degree of breadth from the irregular grouping and distances apart of the small bodies, that it requires several days for the earth to traverse it.
The system of Saturn's satellites shows us likewise a group of immense width, composed of most intimately connected cosmical bodies. In this system, the orbit of the outermost, the seventh, satellite has such a vast diameter, that the earth, in her revolution round the sun, requires three days to traverse an extent of space equal to this diameter. If, therefore in one of these rings, which we regard as the orbit of a periodical stream, the asteroids should be so irregularly distributed as to eonsist of but few groups sufficiently dense to give rise to these phenomena, we may easily understand why we so seldom witness such glorious spectacles as those exhibited in the November months of 1799 and 1833. The acute mind of Olbers led him almost to predict that the next appearance of the phenomenon of shooting-stars and fire-balls intermixed, falling like flakes of snow, would not recur until between the 12th and 14th of November, 1867.
“ The stream of the November asteroids has occasionally only been visible in a small section of the earth. Thus, for instance, a very splendid meteoric shower was seen in England in the year 1837, whilst a most attentive and skilful
observer at Braunsberg in Prussia, only saw on the same night, which was there uninterruptedly clear, a few sporadic shooting-stars fall between seven o'clock in the evening and sunrise the next morning. Bessel concluded from this, 'that a dense group of the bodies composing the great ring, may have reached that part of the earth in which England is situated, whilst the more eastern districts of the earth might be passing it at the time through a part of the meteoric ring proportionally less densely studded with bodies.'
“ If the hypothesis of a regular progression, or oscillation of the nodes, should acquire greater weight, special interest will be attached to the investigation of older observations. The Chinese annals, in which great falls of shooting-stars, as well as the phenomena of comets are recorded, go back beyond the age of Tyrtæus, or the second Messenian war. They give a description of two streams in the month of March, one of which is 687 years anterior to the Christian era. Edward Biot has observed that, ainongst the fifty-two phenomena which he has collected from the Chinese annals, those that were of most frequent recurrence are recorded at periods nearly corresponding with the 20th and 22nd of July, 0. S., and might consequently be identical with the stream of St. Lawrence's day, taking into account that it has advanced since the epochs indicated. If the fall of shooting-stars of the 21st of October, 1366, 0. S.-a notice of which was found by the younger_Van Boguslowski in Benessius de Horowic's Chronicon Ecclesiæ Pragensis 'be identical with our November phenomenon, although the occurrence in the fourteenth century was seen in broad daylight, we find by the precession in 477 years, that this system of meteors, or rather its common centre of gravity, must describe a retrograde orbit round the sun. It also follows from the views thus developed that the non-appearance during certain years, in any portion of the earth, of the two streams hitherto observed in November, and about the time of St. Lawrence's day, must be ascribed either to an interruption in the meteoric ring, that is to say, to intervals occurring between the asteroid groups ; or, according to Poisson, to the action of the larger planets on the form and position of this annulus."
In a delightful and instructive little work by Dr. W. H. Harvey, entitled “The Sea-Side Book :" it is said that “ An eloquent modern writer, in arguing for the existence on this earth of an invisible world of spirits, draws a striking illustration of his subject from our connection with the lower animals, whose forms we indeed see around us, but the secrets of whose being, whose motives of action, and whose final destiny, remain unfathomable mysteries. We are,” says he, “in a world of spirits, as well as in a world of sense, and we hold communion with it, and take part in it, though we are not conscious of so doing. If this seems strange to any one, let him reflect that we are undeniably taking part in a third world, which we do indeed see, but about which we do not know more than about the angelic host—the world of dumb animals. Can anything be more marvellous or startling, unless we were used to it, than that we should have a race of beings about us whom we do but see, and as little know of their state, or can describe their interests, or their destiny, as we can tell of the inhabitants of the sun and moon ?" It is, indeed, a very overpowering thought, when we get to fix our minds upon it, that we familiarly use, I may say hold intercourse with, creatures who are as much strangers to us, and as mysterious as if they were fabulous unearthly beings, which Eastern superstitions have invented. They have apparently passions, habits, and a certain accountableness; but all is mystery about them. We do not know whether they can sin or not, whether they are under punishment, whether they are to live after this life. We inflict very great sufferings on a portion of them, and they in turn every now and then seem to retaliate upon us, as if by a wonderful law. We depend on them in various important ways; we use their labour, we eat their flesh. This, however, relates to such as come near us. Cast your thoughts abroad on the whole number of them, large and small, in vast forests, or in water, or in the air, and then say whether the presence of such countless multitudes, so various in their natures, so strange and wild in their shapes, living on the earth without ascertainable object, is not as mysterious as anything which Scripture says about the angels ? Is it not plain to us that there is a world inferior to us in the scale of beings with which we