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follow the darkening of the sun and moon, Christ's prophecy says:
“The stars shall fall from heaven.” Matt. 24: 29.
The prophet John beheld the spectacle in a vision of the last days, and described it in these words:
“The stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind." Rev. 6: 13.
On Nov. 13, 1833, came the wondrous celestial exhibition of falling stars, which is listed as one of the most remarkable phenomena of the astronomical story.
Meteoric displays, swarms of shooting stars, have been observed at various times all through the ages; but this phenomenon, coming in the order given by the prophecy, that is, following the darkening of the sun, constituted the sublime display answering to the pen-picture of the Apocalypse, -as if all the stars of heaven were falling to the earth.
The essential thing about a sign is that it shall be seen, that the circumstances of its appearance shall fasten attention. Not in America alone, but equally in all the civilized world, as a topic of study, this sign in the heavens commanded the attention of men.
An English scientist, Rev. Thomas Milner, F. R. G. S., wrote:
“The attention of astronomers in Europe, and all over the world, was, as may be imagined, strongly roused by intelligence of this celestial display on the Western continent.”—“The Gallery of Nature” (London, 1852), p. 141.
This writer called it “by far the most splendid display on record."— Id., p. 139.
Another English astronomical writer of more recent date says:
“Once for all, then, as the result of the star fall of 1833, the study of luminous meteors became an integral part of astronomy.”— Clerke, “History of Astronomy in the Nineteenth Century," p. 329.
This same work describes the extent of the display as follows:
“On the night of Nov. 12-13, 1833, a tempest of falling stars broke over the earth. North America bore the brunt of its pelting. From the Gulf of Mexico to Halifax, until daylight with some difficulty put an end to the display, the sky was scored in every direction with shining tracks and illuminated with majestic fireballs."'-- Page 328.
The Spectacle Described The closest scientific observations were made by Prof. Denison Olmsted, professor of astronomy at Yale, who wrote in the American Journal of Science:
"The morning of Nov. 13, 1833, was rendered memorable by an exhibition of the phenomenon called shooting stars, which was probably more extensive and magnificent than any similar one hitherto recorded. ... Probably no celestial phenomenon has ever occurred in this country, since its first settlement, which was viewed with so much admiration and delight by one class of spectators, or with so much astonishment and fear by another class. For some time after the occurrence, the ‘meteoric phenomenon’ was the principal topic of conversation in every circle."Volume XXV (1834), pp. 363, 364.
Prof. Simon Newcomb, the astronomer, declares this phenomenal exhibition of falling stars "the most remarkable one ever observed." (See "Astronomy for Everybody," p. 280.)
This was not merely a display of an unusual number of falling stars, such as Humboldt observed in South America in 1799, or such as we find recorded of other times before and since. It was a "shower" of falling stars, just such a spectacle as one must picture from the words of the prophecy, “And the stars of heaven fell.”'
The French astronomer Flammarion says of the density of the shower:
“The Boston observer, Olmsted, compared them, at the moment of maximum, to half the number of flakes which we perceive in the air during an ordinary shower of snow. -“Popular Astronomy,” p. 536.
This affords us a better idea of the scene than the estimate of 34,640 stars an hour, which was made by Professor Olmsted after the rain of the stars had greatly abated, so that he was able to make an attempt at counting.
Dr. Humphreys, president of St. John's College, Annapolis, said of the appearance at the Maryland capital:
“In the words of most, they fell like flakes of snow."— American Journal of Science, Vol. XX (1834), p. 372.
Nothing less than this could have presented the counterpart of the prophetic picture.
Thoughtful hearts were solemnized by the unwonted spectacle. Prof. Alexander Twining, civil engineer, "late tutor in Yale College," giving his views as to the nature of the flaming visitants from space, wrote:
“Had they held on their course unabated for three seconds longer, half a continent must, to all appearance, have been involved in unheardof calamity. But that almighty Being who made the world, and knew its dangers, gave it also its armature- endowing the atmospheric medium around it with protecting, no less than with life-sustaining, properties.
“Considered as one of the rare and wonderful displays of the Creator's preserving care, as well as the terrible magnitude and power of His agencies, it is not meet that such occurrences as those of November 13 should leave no more solid and permanent effect upon the human mind than the impression of a splendid scene.”- American Journal of Science, Vol. XXVI (1834), p. 351.
Multitudes felt that the great Creator had spoken to men in this notable wonder of His heavens. Again and again in the records and reminiscences of that time, testimony is borne to the fact that observers were impressed with the likeness of the scene to that described in the divine prophecy as one of the signs of the end of the world.
The Prophetic Picture Reproduced The New York Journal of Commerce emphasized the exactness of detail with which the prophecy described the scene as it appeared in 1833. This is the apocalyptic picture, as the ancient prophet saw it in vision:
“The stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.” Rev. 6: 13.
A correspondent of the Journal of Commerce draws the picture as it was seen nearly eighteen centuries later, the likeness to the prophetic description being emphasized in every line:
“No philosopher or scholar has told or recorded an event like that of yesterday morning. A prophet eighteen hundred years ago foretold it exactly, if we will be at the trouble of understanding stars falling to mean falling stars."— New York Journal of Commerce, Nov. 14, 1833.
In this connection was noted by the same writer the special appropriateness of the prophet's figure of the fig tree casting the green figs in a mighty wind:
“Here is the exactness of the prophet. The falling stars did not come as if from several trees shaken, but from one. Those which appeared in the east fell toward the east: those which appeared in the north fell toward the north; those which appeared in the west fell toward the west; and those which appeared in the south (for I went out of my residence into the park) fell toward the south; and they fell not as ripe fruit falls; far from it; but they slew, they were cast, like the unripe fig, which at first refuses to leave the branch; and when it does break its hold, flies swiftly, straight off, descending; and in the multitude falling, some cross the track of others, as they are thrown with more or less force.”
Professor Olmsted's long and carefully elaborated account in the American Journal of Science, gave a report from a correspondent in Bowling Green, Mo., as follows:
“Though there was no moon, when we first observed them, their brilliancy was so great that we could, at times, read common-sized print without much difficulty, and the light which they afforded was much whiter than that of the moon, in the clearest and coldest night, when the ground is covered with snow. The air itself, the face of the earth as far as we could behold it, all the surrounding objects, and the very countenances of men, wore the aspect and hue of death, occasioned by the continued, pallid glare of these countless meteors, which in all their grandeur flamed 'lawless through the sky.'
“There was a grand and indescribable gloom on all around, an aweinspiring sublimity on all above; while
“The sanguine flood
“... There was scarcely a space in the firmament which was not filled at every instant with these falling stars, nor on it could you in gen