Friday, August 11, 2017

The Tears of Saint Lawrence (Perseid Meteor Shower) ~ Tears of St. Lawrence .....Courtesey of Sky and Telescope ~ The Essential Guide to Astronomy

The earliest discoverers of the Perseids were anonymous, and their feat lay buried in an English farmer's almanac. Both Quetelet and Herrick chanced upon it. Bravely, Herrick acknowledged, "The annual occurrence of a meteoric display about the 10th of August appears to have been recognized for a very great length of time." Thomas Furley Forster of London had recorded it in 1827 in his Pocket Encyclopaedia of Natural Phenomena. "According to Mr. T. Forster," Herrick reported in October 1839, citing Quetelet, "a superstition has 'for ages' existed among the Catholics of some parts of England and Germany that the burning tears of St. Lawrence are seen in the sky on the night of the 10th of August; this day being the anniversary of his martyrdom."
On August 12, 1993, J. F. Funderburg photographed this bright Perseid streaking past the Andromeda Galaxy (fuzzy trail just above the meteor's center). Due to precession, the Perseid shower arrives a few days later in August than it did a century and a half ago.
Saint Lawrence was tortured and killed in Rome on August 10, 258, during the reign of the anti-Christian emperor Valerian. "The peasants of Franconia and Saxony have believed for ages past that St. Lawrence weeps tears of fire which fall from the sky every year on his fete (the 10th of August)," Herrick wrote, quoting a Brussels newspaper. "This ancient popular German tradition or superstition has been found within these [past] few years to be a fact which engages the attention of astronomers."
Herrick never seemed bitter about being repeatedly upstaged. He continued to tend his August meteors with great faithfulness and to report their activity in Silliman's journal all the remaining years of his life.
In 1838, soon after his first scientific articles appeared in print, Herrick lost his bookstore. But Yale was so impressed by his scholarship that it awarded him an honorary master of arts degree. Five years later, Yale built a new library and made Herrick college librarian. It was a pleasant irony for a man whose eye trouble had kept him from college and who had complained about New Haven's poor libraries. Herrick spent the next 15 years vigorously developing the Yale library collections. He never married. He never took a vacation.
Later he assumed the duty of writing and publishing Yale's obituaries of graduates and faculty. Herrick was so organized and efficient that he wrote his own death notice a few days before he died in 1862 at the age of 51.

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