Alexander Humboldt

The Leonids Meteor Shower

On this day in 1799, the Leonids meteor shower was seen from Europe and South America.

The famous German explorer and botanist Alexander Humboldt had just arrived in South America to begin his great five-year exploration, and he wrote this in his journal from Chile as he saw the Leonids:

"The night between November 11 and 12 was calm and beautiful... During 4 hours, we observed thousands of huge fireballs, often with a brightness like Jupiter. Long smoke trails were left behind, lasting 7-8 seconds, often the meteors exploded, leaving trails too."

It wasn't just Humboldt who witnessed this event. Andrew Ellicott Douglass, an early American astronomer who was born in Vermont, observed the Leonids from a ship off the Florida Keys. Douglass, who later became an assistant to the famous astronomer Percival Lowell, wrote the first- known record of a meteor shower in North America in his journal, saying that the,

"whole heaven appeared as if illuminated with skyrockets, flying in an infinity of directions, and I was in constant expectation of some of them falling on the vessel. They continued until put out by the light of the sun after daybreak." 

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Alexander Humboldt
Alexander Humboldt

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