Philosophical Transactions. For the months of April, May and June, 1716. - Part I.

By Nicole Renee

Ⅰ. A description of the phenomenon of March 6; last as it was seen on the ocean, near the coast of Spain. With an account of the return of the same sort of appearance, on March 31, and April I. and 2. following.

In our last, we endeavour'd to give the publick as good an account of the late surprizing meteor, seen in the heavens, on the sixth of March last, as could be gathered from the several relations of very distant spectators, which had then come to the Royal Society's notice. And since then, we can only add thereto, that at Paris, the light was so inconsiderable, that it was not regarded; but from a letter to Mr. Alexander Geekie, surgeon, dated on board a ship in Nevis Road, in America, April 19, 1716, we have copied the following passage. "On the sixth of March, at 9 a clock in the evening, we being then in the latitude of 45°. 36' (off of the N.W. Coast of Spain). A clear cloud appeared East of us, not far distant from our Zenith, which afterwards darted itself forth into a number of rays of light, every way like the tail of a comet, of such a great length, that it reach'd within a short way of the horizon. There likewise appear'd a body of light, N.N.E. of us, and continued as light almost as day, till after 12 a clock. It appear'd at a good distance from us, and darkened on a sudden."
Hence it should seem, that the vapour which caused this appearance, arose indifferently out of the deep ocean sea, as well as from the land; by which we may conclude the great subtilty of the matter thereof, since it could permeate so great a quantity of water, and yet retain its velocity; which is a circumstance deserving the further consideration of the curious.
But since this, most of the same phenomena have been repeated three several nights successfully, viz. One the last of March, and first and second of April. The best and fullest description of the two first, is, from a letter of Dr. Brook Taylor, LL.D. and Secretary to the Royal Society, dated April 2, from Cotterstock, near Oundle in Northampton Shire, who thus describes them. "On Saturday night last, and last night, I saw appearances of the same kind, with those of March 6. but not to compare for extent and strength to the other. They both began soon after sunset, and continued till after 12, but how much longer I cannot tell. They were both about 10 or 15 degrees to the Westward of the North, and took up about 80 degrees of the horizon; and the Aurora rose about 30 gr. high, with a dark bottom, like what was seen in the first; and from whence there sprung out several bodies of light, which immediately run into streams, ascending about 30, or at most 40 gr. high. There was no flashing nor waving light, but in all other respects, these lights were of the same kind with what we saw at London. Indeed in that last night, there was one phenomenon like the flashing lights, for a body of light about 15 or 20 degrees long, parallel to the horizon, rose till it came about 6 degrees above the black basis, and then sent up two strong streams of light about 40 gr. high, which at top dasht against one another, and disappear'd.
At London, the first night, March 31. It did not begin to radiate, till towards mid-night, and was seen but by few curious person; the beams not rising very high, and scarce appearing over the houses, were little taken notice of; but by the relation of those that saw it, it was much more considerable than the next night following Easter-day, for it then sent out but few and very short beams, mostly terminating in a sharp point, and presently disappearing. Only it beginning to stream so soon as it became dusky, it was very observable, that those rays which arose out of the West end of the luminous arch, next the sun, were enlightened by its beams, and shew'd themselves much brighter than those which sprung up under the pole, or to the Eastward thereof. And after nine, till midnight, no more beams arose; and the luminous arch with its black basis, settled down very low in the Northern horizon.
The same two nights, by the observation of Mr. William Lingen, the like appearance was seen at Dublin, about the hours of nine or ten; at which time, in the former night, it was near as light as in a moon-light night. And from France we have an account, that both those nights, the same was seen at Paris, with much the same circumstances as at Dublin. So that it seems this meteor, though no ways comparable to that of the 6th of March. was seen not less than 150 leagues, and probably much further.
The following night, April 2. When it began to be dark, a luminous arch appear'd in the North, with a very narrow black bottom under it, very low, and depress'd to the horizon; nor was it seen at, or about London, to project any pointed rays as the former.
But what was most remarkable that evening, was, what was seen at London, by that ingenious gentlemen Martin Foulks, Esq; R.S.S. about nine that night. He being in the open air at that time, saw in an instant, a bright ray of very white light, appear in the East, out of the pure sky, then very serene and still; it very much resembled the tail of a comet, and was about 20 gr. inclined from the perpendicular to the right, beginning about Y of Bayer in the Corona Borea1, and terminating about the Informis by some call'd Cor Caroli. This having appear'd but a very short time, disappear'd at once, as in a moment. When on a sudden, such another beam was instantly produced, not exactly in the same place, but in the same situation. Its lower end being about 20 gr. high, was terminated exactly between x and y, in the right hand and arm of Hercules, and the middle of it past over σ and ǥ in the Girdle of Bootes, and thence proceeded Westwards, leaving Cor Caroli four or five degrees to the Northwards. After it had continued in this posture near 10 minutes immoveable among the stars, it began to move slowly towards the North; and the lower end passing over the Northern edge of the Crown, and the ray itself over Cor Caroli, it grew fainter, and vanished, having continued in all about 20 minutes. This latter with some interruptions was extended between Castor and Pollux, very far into the West. And about that time, the same, or such another beam was seen at St. Asaph2, by Doctor Stanley, the Reverend Dean of that church.

A pdf version of the entire text of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London can be found here (this article begins on page 464).

  1. The Corona Borea is a constellation, and it's brightest stars form a semicircular arc. []
  2. St. Asaph is located in Denbighshire, Wales. []

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