In Tyrosh he should be able to curse the gods, call a man

Doubt and Doubthot2023-12-07 12:42:19 428 9389

"So likewise that meteor which was seen in 1708, on the 31st of July, between nine and ten o'clock at night, was evidently between forty and fifty miles perpendicularly high, and as near as I can gather, over Shereness and the buoy on the Nore. For it was seen at London moving horizontally from east by north to east by south at least fifty degrees high, and at Redgrove, in Suffolk, on the Yarmouth road, about twenty miles from the east coast of England, and at least forty miles to the eastward of London, it appeared a little to the westward of the south, suppose south by west, and was seen about thirty degrees high, sliding obliquely downward. I was shown in both places the situation thereof, which was as described, but could wish some person skilled in astronomical matters bad seen it, that we might pronounce concerning its height with more certainty. Yet, as it is, we may securely conclude that it was not many more miles westerly than Redgrove, which, as I said before, is about forty miles more easterly than London. Suppose it, therefore, where perpendicular, to have been thirty-five miles east from London, and by the altitude it appeared at in London-- viz., fifty degrees, its tangent will be forty-two miles, for the height of the meteor above the surface of the earth; which also is rather of the least, because the altitude of the place shown me is rather more than less than fifty degrees; and the like may be concluded from the altitude it appeared in at Redgrove, near seventy miles distant. Though at this very great distance, it appeared to move with an incredible velocity, darting, in a very few seconds of time, for about twelve degrees of a great circle from north to south, being very bright at its first appearance; and it died away at the east of its course, leaving for some time a pale whiteness in the place, with some remains of it in the track where it had gone; but no hissing sound as it passed, or bounce of an explosion were heard.

In Tyrosh he should be able to curse the gods, call a man

"It may deserve the honorable society's thoughts, how so great a quantity of vapor should be raised to the top of the atmosphere, and there collected, so as upon its ascension or otherwise illumination, to give a light to a circle of above one hundred miles diameter, not much inferior to the light of the moon; so as one might see to take a pin from the ground in the otherwise dark night. 'Tis hard to conceive what sort of exhalations should rise from the earth, either by the action of the sun or subterranean heat, so as to surmount the extreme cold and rareness of the air in those upper regions: but the fact is indisputable, and therefore requires a solution."

In Tyrosh he should be able to curse the gods, call a man

From this much of the paper it appears that there was a general belief that this burning mass was heated vapor thrown off from the earth in some mysterious manner, yet this is unsatisfactory to Halley, for after citing various other meteors that have appeared within his knowledge, he goes on to say:

In Tyrosh he should be able to curse the gods, call a man

"What sort of substance it must be, that could be so impelled and ignited at the same time; there being no Vulcano or other Spiraculum of subterraneous fire in the northeast parts of the world, that we ever yet heard of, from whence it might be projected.

"I have much considered this appearance, and think it one of the hardest things to account for that I have yet met with in the phenomena of meteors, and I am induced to think that it must be some collection of matter formed in the aether, as it were, by some fortuitous concourse of atoms, and that the earth met with it as it passed along in its orb, then but newly formed, and before it had conceived any great impetus of descent towards the sun. For the direction of it was exactly opposite to that of the earth, which made an angle with the meridian at that time of sixty-seven gr., that is, its course was from west southwest to east northeast, wherefore the meteor seemed to move the contrary way. And besides falling into the power of the earth's gravity, and losing its motion from the opposition of the medium, it seems that it descended towards the earth, and was extinguished in the Tyrrhene Sea, to the west southwest of Leghorn. The great blow being heard upon its first immersion into the water, and the rattling like the driving of a cart over stones being what succeeded upon its quenching; something like this is always heard upon quenching a very hot iron in water. These facts being past dispute, I would be glad to have the opinion of the learned thereon, and what objection can be reasonably made against the above hypothesis, which I humbly submit to their censure."[1]

These few paragraphs, coming as they do from a leading eighteenth-century astronomer, convey more clearly than any comment the actual state of the meteorological learning at that time. That this ball of fire, rushing "at a greater velocity than the swiftest cannon-ball," was simply a mass of heated rock passing through our atmosphere, did not occur to him, or at least was not credited. Nor is this surprising when we reflect that at that time universal gravitation had been but recently discovered; heat had not as yet been recognized as simply a form of motion; and thunder and lightning were unexplained mysteries, not to be explained for another three-quarters of a century. In the chapter on meteorology we shall see how the solution of this mystery that puzzled Halley and his associates all their lives was finally attained.


Halley was succeeded as astronomer royal by a man whose useful additions to the science were not to be recognized or appreciated fully until brought to light by the Prussian astronomer Bessel early in the nineteenth century. This was Dr. James Bradley, an ecclesiastic, who ranks as one of the most eminent astronomers of the eighteenth century. His most remarkable discovery was the explanation of a peculiar motion of the pole-star, first observed, but not explained, by Picard a century before. For many years a satisfactory explanation was sought unsuccessfully by Bradley and his fellow-astronomers, but at last he was able to demonstrate that the stary Draconis, on which he was making his observations, described, or appeared to describe, a small ellipse. If this observation was correct, it afforded a means of computing the aberration of any star at all times. The explanation of the physical cause of this aberration, as Bradley thought, and afterwards demonstrated, was the result of the combination of the motion of light with the annual motion of the earth. Bradley first formulated this theory in 1728, but it was not until 1748--twenty years of continuous struggle and observation by him--that he was prepared to communicate the results of his efforts to the Royal Society. This remarkable paper is thought by the Frenchman, Delambre, to entitle its author to a place in science beside such astronomers as Hipparcbus and Kepler.



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