Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cosmic Chaos?? Contrived Confusion??: Meteors Behaving Badly.

Back at least for a post or two folks. This one was "inspired" by a comment by Ivan Sanderson that he'd been reading an old catalog of meteor sightings by a British astronomer/observer, RP Greg, who had put out his catalog in 1860. Sanderson was of the opinion that Greg had captured quite a few things in the catalog which were not meteors nor meteorites at all. Knowing that our adventurous friend Ivan often let his enthusiasm get the better of him, I wondered if that was just excess joie de vivre or whether there was something there. So I downloaded the catalog.

1860 was well past the time of the controversy of whether meteors were essentially "rocks" which flew about the atmosphere and crashed to Earth. That had been settled by the early first decades of the 1800s. The meteors and the "fireballs" were types of stones, but only certain types of stones. Some types of stones were still "forbidden" to fall. Although a few holdouts wanted them to be blasted out of volcanoes, science had settled on the idea that they were things with their own orbits, which got caught by the Earth's gravity, or just bad luck on flightlines, and mostly caught fire as they rushed through our Oxygen shield. The only questions that these fellows had were regarding whether the stones orbited the Earth, went round the Sun, or had their own eccentricities, even to coming into the Solar System from deep space.

But the science was still young, and several people were collecting every case that they could in order to extract the truths which must be there --- it was good old "exploration time". Greg was one of the catalog adventurers. What did he find??

Greg found many cases and many beautiful sightings of course. As Sanderson noted though, some of the things he found were of mildly puzzling natures, and some were very puzzling. Let's take a look.

In 1858, over Berlin, Germany [yeh, OK, it wasn't quite "Germany" yet...] a fireball was seen. This fireball "burst" twice as it flew, sent out "sparks", and changed directions both times. Well, probably it blew off big chunks of itself and the remaining fiery part angled away according to the laws of motion. Maybe. Could have happened that way. Would have been nice to have gotten an idea of how much change there was. But we'll give the mundane world that one.

1844: Silesia. Object looked like a large bright "lamp". Others described it as "conical" or like a wine decanter. It was red with a greenish-yellow tail. It moved in a curved arc 50 degrees long. Depending on the use of language, meteors are not supposed to move in curved arcs. But, alright, we'll give in on this one too. Let's say it was a fireball moving in what seemed to be a shallow arc, which then disappeared due to exploding at great height.

1758, Dublin, and 1787, Edinburgh: these meteors seemed to descend towards the Earth then [without any explosion] "pull-up" in their flight, gain altitude, and head back towards space. One then blew; one cruised on away. These are starting to push me a bit. I'll go "mundane" on them by assuming that the meteors were really high, the observer positions made them look descending, then they "skipped" off the atmosphere "changing direction".

Now come EIGHT cases, from 1649 to 1844, where the "meteors" are described as moving in a "serpentine", or bounding up and down in one case, style of motion. This is clearly not simple Galilean motion in any obvious way, and it takes quite a bit of "making stuff up" to dispense with the cases. The debunker here must fall back on doubting the witness testimony as to what exactly was meant by serpentine, how up-and-down WAS it?, weren't you just looking at a distorted smoke trail?, etc. I'm not comfortable with just tossing these oddities out.

1839: Naples, Italy. An object with a long train passed across Italy going West to East towards the Adriatic Sea. It then TURNED BACK and flew on a Northeast to Southwest course disappearing beyond the Bay of Naples. Well, THAT would take one heck of an invisible Galilean mass ejection indeed. No, I don't think we have an easy explanation for this one.

1848: Bombay, India. An object as bright as the Moon with bluish and reddish light, burst or emitted sparks. It flew South to North, then making nearly right angle turns, reversed its course and flew back North to South. Hmmm. "Meteor", "Fireball"? Tough to sell me on the mundane here. About all that's left on these last two is to say that they didn't happen. Which is what Phil Klass would have said, or "ball lightning".

OK. We have a few "maneuvering" meteors, anything else?

1850: Penzance-to-London. Object was as large as the Moon, with no tail but a disconnected train of light. It was reddish, bluish, and yellowish. It did not fly smoothly but moved in jerks. It seemed to explode into luminous balls. An explosion was heard c. 5 minutes later. Some scientists said that they thought it had a parabolic orbit [which might mean that it came to Earth from very long away]. Well, just what did the movement by jerks look like? If dramatic, no meteor. If dramatized, yes meteor.

1778: Como, Italy. Fireball. Would move, explode; then fly on, then explode; then fly on, then explode, "moving by bounds and jerks". If it did this many times, then it begins to stretch the fireball behavior assessment. If say, three only, then OK. Maybe.

1843: Westphalia. A "bright round disk" [the 19th century words] suddenly appeared in the Southwest. It flew for 15 seconds and then "dissolved" into small serpentine portions. Very high meteor which blows for some reason that high up? Maybe. Wording is interesting though.

Now there appear FIVE cases from 1686 to 1851 where the objects are described as stationary for at least some portion of their manifestation. The 1686 [Leipzig] and 1847 [Oxford] objects are stated to have remained stationary for SEVEN MINUTES. The Oxford object was apparently a bright ball of light ["bolide"], and the Leipzig object a ball of fire. Stationary objects throw the meteor hypothesis out the window. Seven minutes of "hovering" insist on an entirely different thought process.

1830: Birmingham area. Object about equal in apparent size to the Moon appeared. It moved and suddenly disappeared. It then reappeared on same path, and then shortly disappeared again. It did this as a rhythmic two-second interval change. So, fly two seconds, disappear two seconds, fly two seconds, disappear. Sort of like a dark high-flying object which blinked its lights twice --- my language not theirs.

1832: Delhi. Three balls of light came together and formed a single ball of light. Hmmmm..... unless someone ran the film of a meteor split-up backwards, this "ain't no meteor".

Short, but I'm going to call it a post for tonight. There were some interesting mysteries there, and a couple of obviously maneuvering objects which could qualify as early UFOs. There is much else in Greg's catalog. Much of that is very odd stuff involving "falls". Weird things were encountered on the ground. When I catch my wind, I'll post on the "Fortean Falls" from Greg's catalog.

Forgive the slow pace... Mom's weaker all the time, and one of my brothers has gotten cancer. Wears on this old man. But I'll stay exploring [keeps me alive] and pass the wonders on to you. As an aside, the big UFOs and Government book is beginning to bring to the History Team a lot of nice comment.

Maybe the 4+ years were worth it.


  1. Hi Professor. Very interesting, of course, but none of them were lime green? ;)

    Thank you once again for keeping this blog going.

    By the way, I just received your book today (ordered from Amazon). I can't wait to start reading.

    All the best,

  2. I sometimes feel that it's a pity these anomalies are only brought to light by people looking for UFOs. That's not intended that as an insult to those who go looking; I've been reading Victorian newspapers and Philosophical Transactions for similar reasons. What I mean is that there are so many rare sky phenomena being overlooked by those who should be interested. It's doubly confounding as anything unusual, a pattern maybe, that's discovered by one of those 'ufology-varmints' must be doubted by association to 'space-aliens.' 'The damned' indeed.

    Recently, I was listening to a 1948 report by a USAF reserve pilot (Capt. Hanchett). He describes a 'fireball' that passes his plane and then flies upwards. He's very dubious about any of that UFO nonsense and the 'boys in Washington' likely classed it as a fireball anyway despite it being seen by the tower too. Coming in '48 it was equated with 'flying saucers' and lies somewhere in the Grudge files whereas it might have been more comfortable in a curious astronomer's files.

    Looking at RP Greg's catalog (Silesia 1803), we also see, 'a shooting-star; got larger and larger till it fell to earth. 1803. January 21. Between Barsdorf and Freiburg. Seemed to pass close to the ground; a whizzing noise heard, then it seemed to lie burning on the ground; next day a jelly-like mass found on the snow. Curious, if true.' Still another (Heidelberg 1811), 'fireball; a gelatinous substance fell?.'

    Fascinating stuff! I look forward to your post on the 'Fortean falls.' Fred Hoyle would have loved these examples.

    Like Bob K, I'm still reading the behemoth and cross-referencing details so might complete it around 2013.

    Best wishes and I hope your mother feels better.

  3. Ooh Prof I'm sorry to hear about your mum. And your brother.

    I don't know if it'll do any good but at the moment I'm simultaneously Sangye Menla the Medicine Buddha with a solid gold head and hollow silver body pointing my miraculous myrobalan plant at you your mum and your brother pouring cool healing blue rays into the three of you and Jesus in his transfigured pure light form holding the glowing star-spitting palm of my hand over the three of your heads pouring the sun of my being into you from the very depths of my boundless heart.

    You're a wacky combination of the science of yesterday and tomorrow and look like a typical small town middle America character from an early Seventies period Speilberg film and I'm oddly too fond of you to let the world encourage you to leave it sooner rather than later by increasing the pitch of your burdens.



Blog Archive