Down a Jagged Path


The Meteor of July 27, 1894
Illustration by Chauncey M. St. John

THE METEOR OF JULY 27, 1894, 7h 30m P. S. T.

A great number of observations of this splendid meteor were received at the LICK Observatory, either directly, or through the kind offices of Hon. A. S. TOWNE, Hon. C. F. CROCKER, Hon. R. THOMPSON and others. Some of the best were not available till the middle of October. Very complete observations of the meteor’s position and appearance were made at Mount Hamilton by seven observers. Professor AITKEN of the University of the Pacific sent the only complete observation received here, viz., the altitude and azimuth of the meteor when it exploded, and the same co-ordinates of the point where it disappeared. Many good determinations of the point of explosion were received, the best being those of Professor FRIEND (Carson), Mr. CARLETON and Mr. BURCKHALTER (CHABOT Observatory), Mr. GEORGE BRAY (Santa Clara), Mr. W. B. JOHNSON and Mr. STONEROAD (Merced), Mr. HERROLD and Mr. HERRING (San José). Drawings of the brilliant cloud left by the explosion were received from Professor SCHAEBERLE (Mount Hamilton), Mr. JOHNSON (Merced), Mr. STEWART (Visalia); and excellent accounts of this cloud from Dr. O’BRIEN (Merced) and others. A beautiful and artistic water-color drawing of the phenomenon has been presented to the Observatory by Mr. CHAUNCEY M. ST. JOHN, which represents the general appearance in a most satisfactory way. The determinations of the place where the meteor disappeared were not so satisfactory, the reasons being, no doubt, that everyone’s attention was riveted on the cloud left by the explosion, and because the meteor divided into two portions near the end of its course.

When the last reports were received it was possible to fix with considerable precision the point where the meteor exploded. This point is in the zenith of a place about half a mile south and about half a mile west of the N. E. corner of T. II E., R. 8 S., M. D. B. and M. The explosion took place when the meteor was a trifle over 28 miles above the Earth’s surface.

It is not so easy to fix the place where the meteor fell. Bakersfield, Hollister, Los Gatos, Madera. Merced, Minturn (two observers), Mount Hamilton ( E. S. H.), San José (two observers), report that the meteor moved north as it fell.

College Park and Mount Hamilton (R. H. T. and A. F. P.) report that it moved south in falling.

Borden, Carson, Crow’s Landing, Fresno, Livermore, Los Baños, Oakland (CHABOT Observatory), Riverside, San Andreas, Santa Clara, Vallejo, Visalia, report. th.e direction of its’fall as substantially vertical; and, in default of more accurate data, I have assumed this to represent the facts.

The meteor disappeared before it reached the Earth. The fragments produced by the explosion were probably volatilized by the time they reached a height of some 6 miles above the Earth’s surface. It is hardly likely that any large fragments reached the Earth. If so, they should be sought for within a circle of some 12 miles in diameter, whose centre is the point previously described. If the observations of the point where the meteor disappeared had been more accurate, the place of the fall would have been better determined.

The meteor was seen by several observers long before it exploded—probably when its height was over 70 miles. The position of the radiant-point is R. A. 16h 0m, Declination +34°.5.

With these data I have calculated the orbit of the meteor. As the data are (in general) not very precise the elements of the orbit are but approximate. The orbit is assumed to be a parabola. The elements are:

Pi = 130°,
Omega = 125°,
i = 20°,
q = 1.016.

The meteor was then a little nearer the Sun than the Earth it was near perihelion, and moving in an orbit inclined some 20° to the ecliptic.

The Regents of the University have authorized the printing of a pamphlet on this subject, which will (in due time) be sent to our correspondents. This pamphlet will also contain the observations of the August meteors of 1894 made by Professor SCHAEBERLE at Monte Diablo, and by Messrs. COLTON, PERRINE and POOLE, at Mount Hamilton.

From The Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Volume VI, 1894, pages 268-270 at Google Books

Pickering’s Martian Penmanship


Mars: May – July, 1892
Sketch by Professor William Pickering

This series of Martian sketches was prepared by William Pickering in 1892. They were printed the article, “The Lowell Observatory, In Arizona,” by Edward S. Holden in The Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Volume VI, 1894, pages 160-170 at Google Books. Mr. Holden’s article featured Pickerings drawings along with comparison drawings made at the Lick observatory during the same Martian apparition. Holden expressed considerable concern over the conclusions Pickering and Lowell published regarding their observations of Mars:

The very essence of the scientific habit of mind is conscientious caution; and this is especially necessary in referring to matters in which the whole intelligent world is interested—as the condition of the planet Mars, for example. I may take as an example the telegrams regarding Mars sent by cable from South America in 1892 by Professor WILLIAM PICKERING, who is to be the chief observer at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. I quote two out of many such telegrams:NEW YORK, October 6, 1892. – The Herald correspondent at Valparaiso cables as follows: Professor PICKERING of the Harvard Branch Observatory at Arequipa says that he discovered forty small lakes in Mars.How does he know the dark markings are lakes? Why does he not simply call them dark spots? And is he sure there are forty?

NEW YORK, September 2, 1892. – Professor PICKERING of Harvard College sends the following to the Herald from Arequipa, Peru:

‘Mars has two mountain ranges near the south pole. Melted snow has collected between them before flowing northward. In the equatorial mountain range, to the north of the gray regions, snow fell on the two summits on August 5 and melted on August 7. I have seen eleven lakes near Solis Lacus varying in area from 80 by 100 miles to 40 by 40 miles. Branching dark lines connect them with two dark areas like seas, but not blue. There has been much trouble, since snow melted, in the Arean clouds. These clouds are not white, but yellowish and partly transparent. They now seem to be breaking up, but they hang densely on the south side of the mountain range. The northern green spot has been photographed. Many of SCHIAPARELLI’S canals have been seen single.”*

*Several of these canals were seen not only single but double at Mount Hamilton, do not know that they were so seen in Peru.

How is it known that there are two polar mountain ranges? How does he know that the flow will be northwards? And an equatorial range? Are not the gray regions so extensive that the description is, to say the least, indefinite? What is the evidence of “trouble” in the clouds? Is it certain that no clouds on Mars are white? How about the clouds “twenty miles high” reported by Professor PICKERING? Were they not white?

These and similar telegrams from South America regarding the happenings on Mars in the year 1892 were received by the astronomers at the LICK Observatory with a kind of amazement.

Watercolor Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse of January 28, 1888
Painting and Details by Professor L. Weinek of Prague

The wonderful coloring of the moon, when more than one-half of its disc is immersed in the shadow of the earth, which, as we know, is produced by the refraction of the rays of the sun in the atmosphere of the earth itself has as yet not been faithfully reproduced by any one. While the eclipsed moon stands out glowing against the dark sky, it offers such a variety of the most delicate tints of red, brown and blue that the artist is inspired by the beautiful sight, and seeks to reproduce what he sees. Through similar impressions I was led to attempt the painting of the phenomenon of the 28th of January, 1888. Relying upon my color-memory I made notes during the eclipse of the colors and localities where they were to be seen, and the very next morning I executed the picture in water colors. Without relying upon one’s memory, the following would seem the safest method by which to make a correct picture of the appearance and values of colors seen at night. The night scene should first be painted at the telescope by the aid of lamp light. In this case, however, the color gradations, made by daylight, could not be relied upon, as artificial light changes the appearance of the colors considerably; the correct tints would have to be found by experiment. Moreover, this picture, having been produced by lamp light, would, if examined by day, give an entirely wrong impression of the true appearance of the original. Consequently it would become necessary to illuminate the picture by day with the same lamp, after excluding all other light (perhaps by placing the picture in a closed box and examining it through a suitable opening) and to look upon it as a new original, and then to copy it by daylight in the usual manner.

As regards my observations of this eclipse I refer to my article on the subject published in No. 2846 of the “Astronomische Nachrichten.” I observed with the six-inch STEINHEIL Refractor of the Prague Observatory, with a power of sixty diameters, and made my picture at 1 1h 18m Prague mean time. At this hour the rim of the umbra of the earth’s shadow passed through the centre of Mare Nectaris, through Mare Tranquillitatis and east of Mare Crisium as far as Mare Humboldtianum. Towards the bright portion of the moon the grayish black shading of the umbra assumed a smoky brown hue, in consequence of the penumbra of the earth ; whereas towards the eclipsed portion, south of Tycho and north of Lacus Mortis it changed to a bright blue tint, and still farther towards the northeast it turned to a most beautiful red, which may be described as being a subdued mixture of rouge de saturne and carmine; it exhibited almost all the detail of the lunar landscape, together with numerous bright objects. This red coloring was particularly beautiful over Mare Imbrium, Plato, Sinus Iridum, Copernicus, Kepler and Aristarchus, and extended in an easterly direction beyond Gassendi; while westerly from this crater Mare Nubium and Mare Humorum assumed a sombre black-brown aspect. The crater Aristarchus was as conspicuous among all other objects during the eclipse as it is when the moon is fully illuminated, owing to its remarkable brightness. In consequence of the technical difficulties which are encountered in the process of printing in colors, the relative values of the colors as well as the gradual decrease of the line of the shadow of the earth are not presented in the accompanying picture as correctly as might have been desired. On the whole, however, this reproduction may be called a satisfactory one.

Image and text published in Volume IV of the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific – 1892, available at Google Books.

Pluto From Pluto

Pluto from Pluto

“Pluto from Pluto” after Mel Hunter
By Frank McCabe

  In the spring of 1963 I was a junior in high school and purchased for 75 cents a
Pyramid book titled “Nine Planets”. The author of the book, Dr. Alan E. Nourse
worked his way through medical school by writing magazine articles about science
fact and also science fiction. I found this author’s writing style riveting as a
young lad. Today most of the content of this book is quite outdated although in
1963 it was an exciting read. Planet Pluto, the “Mighty Midget” as the author
describes it is more unknown than known and will be explored. The author
speculates on the nature of this mysterious planet in the chapter titled, “Pluto
and the Outer Reaches”.
  So this chapter too will become part of the discarded speculation of the past
because in another 7 years new information about Pluto will be gathered by the New
Horizons spacecraft during the July 2015 close
encounter.( At that time the former planet Pluto will go
from unknown minor planet to known minor planet.
  The author had some wonderful assistance in writing and proof reading the book
from well known artist Mel Hunter. Eight of his beautiful paintings are shown in
black and white and can be found between pages 128 and 129. The last one “The
surface of Pluto, with the Sun in the distance” was the one I was looking at to
create this color crayon drawing that I made in the spring of 1963 some 45 years
  I requested and happily received permission from Mel Hunter’s widow sculptor Susan
Smith-Hunter to make this post.
  Information about these two talented artists can be found at Smith-Hunter Gallery and

Frank McCabe 

Lunar Sketching More Than a Century Ago

Historical Lunar Sketches

Historical Lunar sketches
By Dr. Ladislaus Weinek

More than a century ago at the Prague (Klementinum) Observatory Dr. Ladislaus
Weinek served as director of the observatory beginning in 1883.  Professor Weinek
lived from February 13, 1848 to November 2, 1913. He is best remembered for
combining images from Meudon Observatory in France and Lick Observatory in the
United States into the first photographic atlas of the moon in the 19th century.
On the surface of the moon to the southwest of Piccolomini a 32 kilometer crater
is named in his honor. The professor was also an accomplished lunar sketch artist.
The drawings above were made by him and appear in the work titled: The Amateur
Astronomer by Gideon Riegler with English translation by Geo. Aubourne Clarke,
1910, London, T.Fisher Unwin. These drawings can be seen in  chapter IX on pages
200, 201, 206 and 207. In this lunar chapter there is an interesting paragraph
that describes amateur astronomy at that time. It reads “… The amateur astronomer
who takes up the  observation of lunar details can, as we see, aid the professional
in many respects. The possible fields of observations on the lunar surface is so wide,
and contains so many interesting details, that a whole lifetime is scarcely sufficient to
enable one to make observations on every part of the moon’s surface, and even the
longest experienced investigator of the moon will scarcely find himself in any difficulty
as to which detail he will make the object of his observation.”
Submitted by Frank McCabe

The Lord and the Leviathan

Lord Rosse M33 
This is a page from the observation/sketch notes of Lord Rosse, the 19th century Irish engineer and astronomer who built and operated the “Leviathan” at the time the largest telescope in the world, a 72″ metallic speculum mirror (actually there were two, one polished and ready for use and the other being polished and made ready to exchange when the first mirror started to show signs of tarnishing in the moisture prone weather of Birr Castle). This is just one page of many that Deirdre Kelleghan, the President of the Irish Astronomical Society, sent in to ASOD, Thanks Dee! We would also like to thank the the Webb Society for making these images available. Do you recognize this galaxy at the bottom of the page?

Rich Handy
ASOD Webmaster

Canals and the skeptic

Mars canals

  The above drawings show the canals and oases of Mars which in the late 19th
century became more prominent with the melting of the nearest polar cap or so it
was claimed at that time. In a never ending on going process, science progresses
by continuously cleaning out its closets of old incorrect information as new
observations and experiments reveal the errors. Our Earth continues to overtake
Mars for the rendezvous in December. Have you ever wondered what Schiaparelli,
Lowell, W. H. Pickering, Campbell, Hussey and others were seeing at the eyepiece
to draw the canale, channels or canals on the Mars sketches they made? The answer
may have been explained by Vincenzo Cerulli an Italian astronomer living at the
same time as Giovanni Schiaparelli and Percival Lowell. After the “canal skeptic”,
Cerulli  studied Mars for a couple of oppositions, he found he could duplicate
the canals or lines seen by many Mars observers using opera glass to examine small
features on the moon.
 This phenomenon is neither an illusion nor a real exact representation. It is the
eye and brain interacting to fill in small faint features. If you casually examine
the faces on USA paper currency you will see lines across the foreheads. If you
look again using a magnifying glass you can see these lines are dashes and dots. So
if you begin to see canals on Mars near the end of the year, its just you eyes and
brain conspiring to play tricks on you. The time to observe Mars again is just
beginning. Don’t forget to make drawings or log records.
  The above drawings are from page 358 of David P. Todd’s, A New Astronomy © 1897,
American Book Company
  Frank McCabe

An Inventor and Lunar Sketcher of the mid-Nineteenth Century

 Copernicus Nasmyth

  The sketch of Copernicus crater shown above was made by James Nasmyth and is from
George F. Chambers’ book, A Handbook of Descriptive and Practical Astronomy,
1889-1890, Oxford, Clarendon, vol.1, figure 65 page 129.
  James Nasmyth will always be remembered for his ability to invent, design and
improve on power tools. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1808 to an artist father,
he left school at an early age to build machines, a passion that became his
vocation. His most famous invention was a forerunner to the pile driver known as
the steam hammer. With a life long interest in astronomy he spent the last 30 of
his 81 year lifespan directly involved in astronomy. During this time he built
telescopes and improved their mounts. In addition he charted and drew the moon and
sketched sunspots.
  This quote from the above work appears on page 128 and is associated with the
Copernicus crater drawing above. It is most revealing of 19th century thought
about lunar crater origin. “The Volcanic origin of the lunar craters cannot be
more plainly demonstrated than by comparing an engraving such as Fig.62, which
represents a known volcano – Tenerife- with any good engraving of a lunar crater,
e.g. Copernicus, Fig.65. The similarity is too striking to admit of there being
any doubts as to the identity of the physical causes which have originated each
  Frank McCabe