¡SkyCaramba! Weekly astronomy blog for the week ending August 8, 2015
On or about August 10, 1862, after a Roman government order to kill all of the Catholic Church’s leaders, the authorities roasted Laurentius, Deacon of Rome, alive on a gridiron. Many Christians still recognize his martyrdom on the anniversary as St. Lawrence Day or with the Feast of St. Lawrence. By coincidence, Earth passes through a meteor stream left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle every year around St. Lawrence Day.
Almost 2,000 years ago, Asian sky watchers noted an increase in the number of meteors in the middle of the month westerners called August. But it doesn’t seem to have been of interest to scientific observers farther west until the 1800s. Astronomers didn’t even think meteors were an astronomical phenomenon. They are called meteors because they were thought to be atmospheric – or meteorological – in origin.
That changed one night in November 1833 when startled North Americans saw more than a thousand meteors per minute! Astronomer Denison Olmsted observed that the meteors all seemed to be spreading out from the constellation Leo. He proposed that they were from a parallel stream of material the earth passed through. Reasoning that ...