1833: The Year The Heavens Rained Unto Earth

Meteor showers are one of those bucket list items that most people try to check off while sitting in a grass field with a blanket and perhaps a glass of red wine. Well, there is one meteor shower that is believed to be one of the most significant in history. It was so expansive that most people who witnessed the event believed their world was coming to an end.

Nov. 12th, 1833 the sky was full of shooting stars from the Leonid Meteor shower. It was associated with the comet Tempel Tuttle and was named Leonid because it looked like it was shooting from the Leo constellation.

Every November:

The Leonid meteor shower happens every November, but is extremely noticeable every 33 years. The Tempel Tuttle comet revolves around the sun every 32 ½ years. The Earth passes through the comet’s orbit every year, but it’s closest to the Earth every 33 years when it passes closest to the sun.

It was such a spectacular sight in 1833 that many people thought the world was coming to an end. The “night the stars fell” is mentioned in several stories, and there are several witness accounts from the apocalyptic night.

The Wall’s:

A story was written about the Wall family in 1933 that also mentioned this magical night. Edward and Behethelen Wall moved their family of 11 from Kentucky to Lexington on Nov. 13th 1833. They could not cross the Missouri River on the boat that day and so they ended up camping under the stars at Slusher Farm. This was of course, the night the stars fell.

The family was aroused and they thought the world was coming to an end. The event was described as a blurring of stars that showered down so quickly, and thickly that it looked as though every star in the heavens was falling. When they touched the ground, they burst and drifted away. The people witnessing the shower had never experienced or witnessed such an event, nor has there been a greater meteoric display in our age.

The Mormons:

The meteor shower also affected Missouri Mormon history. As the Mormons were being driven from Jackson county in November 1833, several hundred refugees lay on the banks of the Missouri River.  They slept on their back under the open sky.

The crowd of people awoke around 2am November 13th to witness one of the most spectacular showers of meteors in recorded history. It was described by Elder Parley Pratt as follows;

“About two o’clock the next morning we were called up the cry of signs in the heavens [sic]. We arose, and to our great astonishment all the firmament seemed enveloped in splendid fireworks, as if every star in the broad expanses had been hurled from its course and sent lawless through the wilds of the ether. Thousands of bright meteors were shooting through space in every direction, with long trains of light following their course. This lasted for several hours and was only closed by the dawn of the rising sun. Every heart was filled with joy at this majestic display of signs and wonders.”

Judgement Day:

Some believed that this incredible display of Earthly power was the result of the almighty God. One slave girl from Tennessee named Amanda, also remembered this night.

“Somebody in the quarters started yellin’ in the middle of the night to come out and to look up at the sky. We went outside and there they was a fallin’ everywhere! Big stars coming down real close to the groun’ and just before they hit the ground they would burn up! We was all scared. Some o’ the folks was screamin’, and some was prayin’. We all made so much noise, the white folks came out to see what was happenin’. They looked up and then they got scared, too. But then the white folks started callin’ all the slaves together, and for no reason, they started tellin’ some of the slaves who their mothers and fathers was, and who they’d been sold to and where. The old folks was so glad to hear where their people went. They made sure we all knew what happened, you see, they thought it was Judgment Day.”

First Recording:

This event was first recorded in 902 A.D and Plato told of similar meteor showers in his writings. So it’s been going on for a very long time. There have been other accounts of the Leonid meteor showers, but the 1833 shower was the most spectacular ever recorded.

After significant research it was discovered that the meteor shower in 1833 was so prolific because the conditions were perfect and the shower was closer to the Earth than it had been in previous years.

The Next One:

The next Leonid meteor shower will be in November of 2016. It will peak on 17th and 18th of that month, 3 days after the full Moon.

If you want to wait for the next big Leonid shower, you’ll be waiting until November of 2031. Who knows, maybe it’ll be another “the sky is falling” event.

Written by: The Hearty Soul




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