Feb 2015

Meteor Procession Feb 9, 1913

Feb 9, 1913: The Great Meteor Procession

On this date, a strange meteor sighting occurred over Canada, the U.S. Northeast, Bermuda and some ships at sea, including one off Brazil. What happened that night is sometimes called the Great Meteor Procession of 1913, and it sparked decades of debate concerning what actually happened.

Unlike ordinary meteor showers which appear to radiate from a small area of the sky, the Great Meteor Procession was a stream of fireballs moving on parallel paths. These did not burn up after a few seconds, but remained visible for about a minute and the entire procession took several minutes to pass by. Very unusual to say the least.


Painting by Gustav Hahn of the events of Feb 9, 1913

Here is an eyewitness account, one of over 100 collected by Clarence Chant and reported in the Journal of the RASC:

A huge meteor appeared traveling from northwest by west to southeast, which, as it approached, was seen to be in two parts and looked like two bars of flaming material, one following the other. They were throwing out a constant stream of sparks and after they had passed they shot out balls of fire straight ahead that travelled more rapidly than the main bodies. They seemed to pass over slowly and were in sight about five minutes. Immediately after their disappearance in the southeast a ball of clear fire, that looked like a big star, passed across the sky in their wake. This ball did not have a tail or show sparks of any kind. Instead of being yellow like the meteors, it was clear like a star.

The well-known Canadian astronomer, Helen S. Hogg wrote about it in her book, The Stars Belong to Everyone. See pg 46 and 47 of the copy in the Fox Observatory Library. Here is her description:

They came on at the same slow pace, in twos, and threes, or fours, with tails streaming behind them, but not quite so bright as the first, all headed for the same point in the southwestern sky. Gradually the bodies became smaller. The last ones seemed to be just red sparks that were extinguished before they reached the endpoint of the path. As the bodies were on the point of vanishing, a rumbling sound was heard in many places. It was linked to distant thunder or a carriage passing over rough roads.

The painting done by Canadian artist, Gustav Hahn, hangs in the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill, ON. [I assume it is still there, after the U of T transferred the facility to the RASC. -ed]

See this EarthSky.org link for a more detailed story including theories about the origin of this remarkable event.
Meteor Procession