Excerpt from a popular book about natural phenomena about meteorites, thunderstones etc.
"We have also a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye
do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a
dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your
hearts." 2 Peter i. 19.
I LOVE to gaze upon the stars on a cloudless night, papa, when I
can discern some of the planets, whose size and brilliancy
distinguish them from the fixed stars. The pale silvery light of
Venus is particularly beautiful; it reminds me of Him who said,
"I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning
star." Last night, sister Emma and I walked by the river side,
watching the moon-beams reflected on its calm surface, and the
shooting stars as they glided rapidly across the sky. We staid
out so long, that I was afraid mama might be uneasy at our being
exposed to the night air; but I could scarcely prevail upon Emma
to return, she was so delighted with watching what appeared to
her falling stars. I succeeded in making her understand that the
stars did not, and, being so much larger, could not fall upon
this earth. Still, she did not know the nature of these gliding
At her age, Georgiana, it would be difficult to make her
comprehend that these are but lambent or fiery particles,
confined to our atmosphere, in which they frequently rise to a
considerable height, yet are still far beneath the planetary
system, or the fixed stars.
Though I have read of meteors, papa,
yet I cannot now remember the cause by which they are produced?
They are attributed to the fermentation of acid and alkaline
bodies which float in the atmosphere. When the more subtile part
of the effluvia are burnt away, the viscous and earthy
parts become too heavy to he supported by the air, and then they
The Ignis Fatuus, vulgarly called Will-o' the wisp, is
another gliding meteor, papa, which often puzzles the ignorant,
who say it leads those who follow it, as it skims along the
ground, into dangerous pools and bogs.
That might very probably
happen, Georgiana, being generated in such places. It consists of
phosphoric matter exhaled from putrid animalculae, produced in
damp marshy ground. Some electric spark kindles this air into a
thin, pale, powerless flame, which flickers in the dark, until
its vapoury matter is consumed. Sir Isaac Newton calls it a
vapour shining without heat.
Is not the Aurora Borealis
attributed to some such cause as this, papa?
It is conjectured
that this extraordinary phenomenon in nature arises from
exhalations produced from inflammable air, generated between the
tropics, by many natural operations, such as the putrefaction of
animal and vegetable substances, volcanoes, &c. The inflammable
air caused by electricity, as it ascends to the upper regions of
the atmosphere, being of a light essence, is borne on by the
motion of the earth to the poles: experience has proved that that
which is lightest, or swims on a fluid which revolves round an
axis, is urged towards the extreme points of that axis: hence
these inflammable particles accumulate at the poles, where
meeting with other mixed matter, they enkindle, and thus cause
the luminous streaks called Aurora Borealis, or Northern lights.
If that were the case, papa, would not the same kind of lights be
seen also in the opposite direction?
Captain Cook makes mention
of such an appearance, which he calls Aurora Australis; he
describes it to have been a clear white light, shooting up from
the heavens to the eastward, and gradually
spreading over the whole part of the southern sky.
it must be, papa, for the inhabitants of those cold dark regions
which lie at the extremity of the poles, to have their long half-
year nights enlivened with such brilliant appearances!
Yes, Georgiana. There is no region too dark or distant for the
watchful care of God, who wisely governs and provides for every
contingency. In the north east parts of Siberia, Hudson's Bay,
&c. these appearances are attended by a continual hissing, and a
crackling noise through the air, such as is produced by fire
"In 1676, on the 21st of March, a very extraordinary meteor
passed over Italy, making a hissing noise in its course, like
that of artificial fire-works; and when over Leghorn, the report
from it was like that of a cannon, succeeded by a rattling noise
which continued many seconds, and sounded as if a deeply-loaded
waggon were passing over stones. In size, it appeared larger than
the full moon: it traversed through the atmosphere with amazing
velocity, and finally went off to sea towards Corsica."
"Two splendid meteors were seen at Leipsic
within six years. One of these, in May, 1680, spread
consternation among the beholders as
it descended north-wards, leaving a train of light; but the
second, which appeared on the 9th of July, 1686, at half-past
one in the morning, had a much more portentous appearance: it
was a ball of fire with a tail so luminous as to enable the
beholders to read by means of its light; it remained stationary
for seven or eight minutes, then gradually died away. Its circle
appeared half that of the moon in diameter. Its distance at
Leipsic was estimated to be not more than sixty english miles,
and twenty-four perpendicular above the horizon."
beginning of this century there were meteors seen in England.
One which the common people called a flaming sword, was first
seen at Leeds, in Yorkshire, at ten o'clock at night, on the 18th
of May, 1710. The spectators described it as resembling a
trumpet, broad at one end, and small at the other, moving in its
course with the broad end foremost over the counties of York,
Lancaster, Nottingham, and Derby: in all which places the
beholders imagined they saw it fall within a few yards of them;
the rays of light it emitted were so bright and sudden, that the
people were startled at seeing their own shadows, though in the
absence of both sun and moon. In disappearing, bright sparks
proceeded from the small end."
"March 19, 1719, a blazing
meteor, far exceeding the moon in brightness, though then in the
meridian of her glory, was seen all over England. In London,
after eight o'clock in the evening, a sudden powerful light burst
from the west, and gave out a long stream branching about the
middle; and as the meteor proceeded, it changed
its form to that of a pear, tapering upwards, and again to a more
spherical shape at the lower end like the full moon, but of
rather smaller dimensions: its silvery colour was relieved by a
dazzling eye of blue, so vivid and brilliant that it might vie
with, if not surpass the sun's splendour in a clear day: the
eyes of the spectators could not bear its dazzling light, and in
gliding over the sky it left behind it a cloudy track of reddish
yellow colour, like red hot iron or glowing embers, which
continued more than a minute, then sparkled like red hot iron
beat out on an anvil; then grew fainter and fainter, until all
disappeared, as did the meteor above the horizon, without any
explosion in that quarter. In the metropolis, the light of this
extraordinary meteor not only eclipsed the moon and stars, but
rendered the lights of candles and lamps ineffectual, and a
temporary day-light seemed to illumine the streets."
seen in every part of Great Britain and Ireland, and also in
Holland, Germany, France, and Spain, nearly at the same instant
of time. Its explosion was heard in Devonshire, Cornwall, and the
adjacent counties, from whence the accounts were unanimous in
describing the noise to be like the discharge of artillery at
some distance, soon followed by a rattling noise, like that of
small arms promiscuously discharged. This awful sound was
attended by as awful a trembling of the air, which shook the
windows and doors in all the houses, and some said the houses
themselves, beyond the usual effect of the discharge of cannon,
"Another wonderful meteor appeared at Peckham, in
Surry, on the 11th December, 1741. It was like a globe of fire
moving eastward, leaving a silvery track behind it: within a few
seconds it suddenly vanished."
"A beautiful meteor attracted
much observation on the 18th August, 1783, in several
parts of Great Britain. Its appearance was that of a luminous
globular ball, which, in its course, changed its form as if it
had burst, and afterwards it divided into particles, or a cluster
of balls leaving a train behind them; and yielding a light so
brilliant as to illumine every object; and in its circuit
southward it was continually dropping, or casting off sparks,
This beautiful meteor ascended from the north, like the planet
Mars, and was seen in Shetland, and parts of Scotland, and many
other places. It traversed 13 or 14 degrees of latitude,
describing an extent of at least 1000 miles over the earth's
surface. During its passage over Brussels, the moon appeared
quite red: but soon after resumed its natural light. Its
elevation was 50 miles from the surface of the earth, yet at such
a distance the explosion was heard by too many to doubt its
reality; it was heard in Lincolnshire and Kent, and compared
to the discharge of great cannon at a distance."
same year, on the 4th of October, two meteors were seen in
England, the first at three o'clock in the morning was not seen
by many people, because of the hour; but those whose sleep was
interrupted by those causes which obliged some to exchange their
pillow for the morning breeze, described it as rising from the
north, not to a high latitude, and that it then remained
stationary, with a vibrating motion; it shed a light, splendid
as the day, and vanished into air, leaving a train behind. This
tremulous and stationary appearance is generally remarked in
meteors after their course is ended, just before their explosion.
The second meteor was not so large as the remarkable one of
August, and was observed between the hours of six and seven in
the evening. It advanced from the north like a stream of fire,
larger than the common shooting stars, and after proceeding
some distance, it suddenly burst into an intense bright blue
light, peculiar to such meteors, most justly compared to the blue
lights of India, or to the largest electrical sparks. The
illumination was grand, and in the brightest part of its course,
it left behind a dusky red train, which disappeared in about a
minute, as did the meteor, like the sudden light of a candle
extinguished without any apparent explosion."
I have read of
fearful meteors, papa, which have passed over different parts of
the globe at different periods of time, and which excited much
admiration and terror by their explosion in the air, and in many
instances their falling in solid heavy substances.
Some of the Aerolites shed a vivid and dazzling light, and seem like
wandering stars, which a superior force drags on the confines of
the terrestrial vortex. A very remarkable one was observed at
Aigle in Normandy on the 26th of August, 1803; "about mid-day, a
rumbling noise was heard from a cloud in the northern direction;
this cloud covered a globe of fire, which was seen by the
inhabitants of Caen, Pont-Andennes, &c. placed laterally with
respect to the meteor. Its movement was rapid and high; at a
short distance from Aigle it remained stationary, and after many
detonations, a great quantity of stones fell in the space of two
leagues and a half; some of the largest of which weighed from 18
to 20 lbs. and the smallest two drachms. They were similar to
those called _thunder stones_.
"On the 5th of August, 1812, at two
in the morning, whilst the weather was calm and the sky clear, a
meteor of dazzling light was seen by some travellers and
countrymen in the neighbourhood of Chantonnay, in the department
of La Vendee, on the road from Nantes to La Rochelle. It was said
to have been seen at many leagues distance; the time of its
duration was not observed, but it terminated in a violent
explosion, which was compared to the loudest clap of thunder. In
the middle of the day, the master of the farm La Haute Revetison,
near Chantonnay, perceived in a field not far from his house, a
large stone, which he had never seen before. It was buried two
feet and a half in the earth, and had a strong sulphureous smell
which it retained six months."
In 1819, a meteoric stone fell
near the village of Dooralla, in India, and spread universal
consternation over a country, where the superstitious people look
on the phenomena of nature as presages of some awful calamity.
The day was cloudless and serene, and the thermometer in the
shade stood at 68^. Suddenly, a report louder than that of a
cannon, and afterwards a rushing noise, was heard by some people
at work in a field, who looking towards the quarter from whence
it proceeded, perceived large black body in the air
moving apparently towards them, but which past on with
inconceivable velocity, and buried itself in the earth about
sixty paces farther on. This phenomenon, when dug out, and
examined by some British officers, proved to be an ill-shapen,
triangular stone, something more than 25 lbs in weight, and
covered with a pellicle thinner than a wafer, of a black
sulphureous crust; this aerolite received a fracture which shews
the interior to be iron pyrites and nickel; no smell of sulphur
was found on it."
The celebrated astronomer Gassendi relates an
instance of an aerolitic descent of which he was himself an eye-
witness. "On the 27th of November, 1627. the sky being clear, he
saw a burning stone fall on Mount Vaisir, in the south-east
extremity of France, near Nice. While in the air, it seemed to be
about four feet in diameter; was inclosed in a luminous circle of
colours like a rainbow, and in its fall produced a
sound like the discharge of cannon. It weighed 59 lbs. was very
hard, of a dull metallic colour, and had a specific gravity
considerably greater than that of marble."
"In the year 1672,
two stones fell near Verona, in Italy, the one weighing 300, the
other 20O lbs. This phenomenon was witnessed in the evening, by
three or four hundred persons. The stones fell with a violent
explosion, in a sloping direction, and in calm weather; they
appeared to burn, and ploughed up the ground."
You spoke once of
some fatal consequences having attended the fall of aerolites---
What were they?
During the explosion of a meteor near Bordeaux,
on the 20th of August, 1789, a stone, in diameter about 15
inches, fell through the roof of a cottage, and killed a herdsman
and some cattle. Part of this stone is now in the Greville
Museum, and part in the Museum of Bordeaux.
"In the year 1790,
on the 24th of July, between nine and ten at night, a shower of
stones fell near Agen, in Guienne, near the south-west angle of
France. First a luminous ball of fire was seen, traversing the
atmosphere with great rapidity, and leaving behind it a train of
light which lasted about fifty seconds; soon after a loud
explosion was heard, and sparks were seen to fly off in all
directions. This was followed by the fall of stones, over a
considerable extent of ground, and at various distances from each
other. They were of different sizes, but of the same appearance,
the greater number weighing two ounces; but some much more, the
smaller ones remained on the surface, while some, with a hissing
noise, buried themselves in the ground. This shower of stones did
no damage, except to the tiles of several houses which were
broken by them, but in falling they did not sound like hard
compact substances, but of a matter in a soft half melted state.
When they fell on straw it adhered to them, and could scarcely be
taken off; a manifest proof that they were in a state of fusion.
In the year 1795, several persons, near the house of Captain
Topham, in Yorkshire, heard a loud noise in the air, followed by
a hissing sound, and soon after felt a shock, as if a heavy body
had fallen to the ground at a little distance. And, in fact, one
of them saw a huge stone fall to the earth, at the distance of
eight or nine yards from the place where he stood. When he
observed it, it was about the same distance above the ground,
and it threw up the mould on every side in burying itself 21
inches in the earth. On being dug up, it was found to weigh 56 lb.
On the 4th of July, 1803, a ball of fire struck a public-house at
East Norton, in Oxfordshire. The chimney was thrown down, the
roof partly torn off, the windows shattered to atoms, and the
dairy, &c. converted into a heap of rubbish. It was of
considerable magnitude, and, on coming in contact with the house,
exploded with great noise and left a very oppressive sulphureous
smell. Several fragments of stones were found on the spot, having
a surface of a dark colour, and smooth as if in a state of
fusion, with numerous globules of a whitish metal combining
sulphur and nickel. The indentures on these surfaces render it
probable that the ball was soft when it descended, and in a state
of fusion, as the grass, &c, were burnt where the fragments fell.
The motion of this fire-ball, while in the air, was very rapid,
and apparently parallel with the horizon.
These are not meteors,
but Aerolites, which are solid, burning, ponderous masses,
impelled with rapidity through the atmosphere, where they seldom
dissipate without an explosion, the consequences of which have
been in some instances terrific. There are also meteoric stones
called _thunder stones_, the descent of which has been attended
with fatal consequences. Some have fallen and buried themselves
in the earth, leaving a strong sulphureous smell, and making a
report like that of a cannon.
How various and numerous, papa, are
the dangers which surround us in our going out, and coming in,
in our lying down, and rising up!
Yes, Georgiana, but there is
also a superintending providence which guards our steps, which
prevents and follows us, which shields us from the terror of the
night, and from the arrow which flieth by day. There shall no
real evil nor plague come nigh the dwelling of those who have
made the Lord their refuge.
The Lord's people, papa, are not,
however, exempt from outward calamities.
No, Georgiana, they are
not: but they are exempt from every thing really injurious. Those
things which may he thought the worst, as well as those which
may be thought the best, are all working together for their
I have read of very splendid meteors, papa,
and have indeed seen some of them which burst forth in a blaze of
glory, and gliding over the spacious firmament, sank suddenly
into obscurity, leaving no track behind. Others take a sweeping
curve in different directions, then seem to dissolve in light air,
or fall to the ground. The cloudless, frosty nights in winter are
often beautified by these luminous appearances so poetically
'The seeming stars fall headlong from the skies,
And shooting through the darkness, gild the night
With sweeping glories, and long trails of light.'
Small meteors are seen in warmer climates,
during the intervals of showery weather,
of a beautiful bluish white, which sparkle for a few moments, then
disappear, leaving behind long silvery trains; but the largest and
most brilliant meteors shoot from beneath the surcharged thunder
cloud, during the sultry heat of a summer's evening. All
these proceed from the earth's exhalations, and compound hydrogen
gases, which are disengaged, take fire, and almost
instantaneously dissipate themselves.
I should think, papa, that
the polar lights, by the ancients called _burning torches_, must
be the same as the Aurora Borealis.
Captain Parry seems to be of
that opinion, in the account he gives of those extraordinary
lights, in his journal of a voyage to the polar regions; they
are sometimes attended with a crackling noise, which, however, he
listened for in vain.
How very beautiful they must be, papa,
according to the descriptions I have read, like those lovely
coloured clouds which usher in the morning of a fair day, and
accompanied by flaming shoots succeeding each other, tinged with
the liveliest colours, and variegated at the upper part of the
meteor with a luminous network, through which the lustre of the
stars glow amidst the ceaseless agitation, and flames are
ejected which furrow the heavens, like shining vapours on summer
There is another very extraordinary phenomenon seldom
seen except in the polar regions, as Greenland, Hudson's Bay, &c.
which are the parphelia. [...]