Walt Whitman Meteor Mystery Solved by Astronomer Sleuths

Very cool little story that also involves a Frederic Church painting and newspaper archives.

Following a trail that began with a 19th century painting and led to hundreds of newspaper reports, the researchers discovered that the “strange huge meteor-procession” mentioned in Whitman’s noted collection “Leaves of Grass” indeed refers to a rare procession of earth-grazing meteors that occurred in 1860.–AOL News

One thought on “Walt Whitman Meteor Mystery Solved by Astronomer Sleuths

  1. RE: Texas State astronomers solve Walt Whitman meteor mystery
    As a reference to the July 2010 “Sky and Telescope” publication of
    Texas State physics professors Donald Olson and Russell Doescher,
    English professor Marilynn S. Olson and Honors Program student Ava G.
    Pope work publish on the “Year or Meteors 1859-1860” and the Church
    painting. I am
    obligated to point out that at the International Meteor Conference in
    Slovakia in
    2008 September, a poster session was presented where the Walt
    “Year of the Meteors” poem was addressed and the implication of the
    to both meteor science and Whitman’s interest in human nature and
    pre-American civil war period commentary on natural and cultural
    Prior to the IMO conference a CD of articles was prepared (available
    through the IMO, see their web site if interested,) including the
    “Meteor Beliefs Project: Year of Meteors” edited for the co-authors
    and contributors to the IMC 2008 MBP, by Alastair McBeath & Andrei
    Gheorghe, Project Coordinators (2008 June 15).
    The article in the IMO publication about the 1859-1860 meteor out
    break, pointed out that between 15 November 1859 to 2 August 1860
    there were four notable fireball events reported in popular press.
    event of bright fireballs was world wide, and that the Comet mentioned
    the poem, was Comet C/1860 M1 (III) . The other review of literature
    interest was an article in “Scientific American” of the period
    the “Year of Meteors”.
    The initial article (September 2008) was followed by a related article
    for John Brown’s Anniversary on the raid on Harpers Ferry and his
    in December 1859. The Whitman Poem identifies John Brown as a
    figure (WGN December 2009, pp191-194).
    As Alastair, Andrei, and I tried to identify the social effect of the
    1859-1860 meteors display, with meteor metaphors appearing in
    commerce and the identification of villains and heroes. I found this
    contemporary passage for Church, “Church’s meteoric rise in the
    and 1850’s, as one critic has said, was fueled by the tumult of the
    times. ….”. And indeed the period of the poem and painting were
    presented was fluid and dynamic.
    The event observed by Church, Whitman, and others was more than just
    a local event observed by artist on the July 20th, 1860. Newspapers
    and related journals, found the event to be spectacular. Even medical
    journals. From the “American Medical Times” this was located, Vol 1,
    page 72, July 26, 1860. “Remarks on the Weather (from New York City)
    ,” (July) 20 Clear and Hot. A brilliant planetary Meteor Crosses the
    horizon from west to east at a great altitude at 9 1/4 P.M.”
    With the information available beginning in 1859 to the end of 1860,
    the earth’s orbit passed through a series of cosmic dust trails
    the 1860 Comment), as the year of meteors was observed through out
    the world. A publication by Heis and Neumayer (1867), ( On meteors in
    southern hemisphere) discuss a series of fireball (circa 1860)
    from Southern Hemisphere. An illustration by Lydwig Becker from
    Australia, October 1860 shows a bright fireball over the landscape,
    An opinion shared with Alastair, the 1859-1860 event was the
    threshold for scientist and others to begin studying meteors as a
    discipline of astronomy. I know 1833 Leonid outbreak was an event
    began some scientist of the period to rethink meteors, not as water
    vapours, or
    volcanic rock from earth but from outside the earth. A review of
    literature after the 1859-1860 event, finds more observational logs
    and publications beginning to be focused on the study of meteor and
    meteorites. The event of 1859-1860 was the beginning of the acceptance
    of meteor observations.
    Thank you for your time.
    George John Drobnock
    On behalf of Alastiar McBeath (Alastair McBeath
    Andrei Dorian Gheorghe (Andrei Dorian Gheorghe ),
    the International Meteor Organization publication the WGN (editor –
    Javor Kac )

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