Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/87

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THE substantial unity of the celestial objects distinguished in common language by the names shooting or falling stars, fire-balls, and meteorites, and further, the coincidence in many important respects of these with comets, and possibly with the zodiacal light, were suggestions made by Humboldt in the "Cosmos," which have received much confirmation from the subsequent advance of science.

The greater apparent velocity with which the ordinary meteors traverse the atmosphere as compared with that with which the less frequent larger bodies are seen to move, the marked periodicity that attends the recurrence of the former in several, and especially in two, notable cases of meteor-showers, offer an apparent contrast between these classes of meteors; it is not, however, in all probability, a real contrast, for the one class passes into the other by every gradation in the magnitude of the mass or masses of which the meteor consists, and consequently in the grandeur of the phenomena which accompany its advent. If of the material composing the ordinary falling star we have never yet been able to recognize any vestiges as reaching the earth, of the meteorite, on the other hand, the mineral collections of Europe contain numerous carefully-collected specimens, which are the fragments that have escaped the fiery ordeal of the transit through our earth's atmosphere, and in these we recognize masses composed either of iron (siderites), or of stones (ærolites), or of a mixture of the two (siderolites). The phenomena associated with such falls of meteoric matter have been described in very similar language by those who have witnessed them in various parts of the world, and these accounts, whether coming from European observers or from Hindoo herdsmen (of which some were read by the lecturer), concur generally in the approach of the meteorite as a fiery mass, emanating from a cloud when seen by day and exploding often with successive detonations that are heard over a great extent of country, even in certain cases at points more than 60 miles distant, but finally reaching the earth with a velocity little higher than what might be due to the motion of a falling body. Externally these meteoric masses are generally hot when they fall; sometimes, however, they are not so; the discrepancies in the accounts being explained by one authenticated case in which the mass was internally intensely cold, though at first hot externally. The fallen meteorite is invariably coated with an incrustation, sometimes shining as an enamel, generally black, but occasionally colorless where the ærolite is free from ferrous silicates; and this incrustation is seen to have been formed in the atmosphere,

  1. Read before the Royal Institution of Great Britain.