The Night the New England Sky Was ‘Raining Fire’
Explorers Web describes it as "the night the stars fell." The Library of Congress says it appeared as though the sky was "raining fire."
The publications are referring to the Leonid Meteor Showers of November 12 and 13, 1833.
Jennie Horton, the 2020 Librarian-in-Residence with the Reference Team with the Serial & Government Publications Division of the Library of Congress, wrote of that night this way:
"It's an ordinary night in November. You look up in the sky at around 10:30 p.m. and notice a few shooting stars. After you appreciate the pretty sight, you get ready for bed and tuck yourself in."
Horton continues, "Shortly after 3:00 a.m., you are awoken as your room fills with light. You can hear your neighbors outside shouting. As you rush outside, you're met with a spectacular scene - the sky is lit up with hundreds of meteors, as if it is raining fire."
The meteor showers were visible across the country, but eyewitness accounts from Boston and elsewhere in New England paint a particularly vivid image of this wondrous sight. Ronald P. Millett of Science & Religion referred to the event as "a precisely synchronized sign and wonder."
Irish astronomy and writer Agnes Clerke (1842-1907) wrote, "At Boston, the frequency of meteors was estimated to be half that of flakes of snow in an average snowstorm. Their numbers were quite beyond counting"
Explorers Web says American astronomer Denison Olmsted collected eyewitness accounts of the meteor storm, compiling them in The American Journal of Science and Arts. Other accounts of the meteor storm include "those of various Native American tribes, Abraham Lincoln, Joseph Smith, and Frederick Douglass."
Douglass had not yet arrived in New Bedford at the time of the Leonid meteor storm of 1833.
While some thought the events of November 1833 were supernatural or religious, scientists have observed the Leonid meteor showers for more than a thousand years. Nasa says the Leonids peak in mid-November.
While the Leonid meteor showers can produce many bright "falling stars" each hour, the 1833 event was extraordinary in sheer numbers and brightness.
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