Leonid Observations:
Ancient and Medieval

[Always looking for updates]

      The Leonids have been well-observed for over 1000 years. But strong interest in discovering the nature of meteor showers really did not begin until the great 1833 display of the Leonids. In the years following the 1833 display research increased and several astronomers began looking for previous appearances of the Leonids and other meteor showers among ancient and medieval documents. In 1841 Edward C. Herrick published a paper that linked a few of the then-known annual meteor showers to pre-19th century displays. In 1864 Hubert A. Newton published a paper that offered the first elaborate catalog of pre-19th century displays of the Leonids.
      A significant addition to our knowledge of the ancient and medieval Leonid displays came in 1958 when Susumu Imoto and Ichiro Hasegawa published a list of meteor shower accounts obtained from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean historical texts.
      For the last several years I have been conducting extensive research to find ancient and medieval accounts of comets. Along the way I found numerous records of meteor showers, several of which were obviously Leonids.
      What follows may be the most comprehensive catalog of pre-19th century Leonid displays. I will be adding to it in the near future. Right now I have tried to group the observations with the probable perihelion date of the Leonids' parent comet Tempel-Tuttle to help illustrate how the intensity of the meteor shower apparently increases when the comet is in the inner solar system.
      Please note that because of the gravitational influences of the planets, there has been a steady advancement of the line of nodes of Tempel-Tuttle. This basically means that the point where Earth intersects the comet's orbit occurs later every century. Therefore, the Leonids occurred in mid-October during the 10th century, late October during the 16th century, and mid-November during the 20th century.
      The perihelion dates of Tempel-Tuttle were kindly computed and supplied to the author by D. K. Yeomans of JPL.


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 901 September 28

901: The historian Eutychius of Alexandria (877-940) included an interesting account in his text Annals. The account sounds like what would be expected for the Leonids, although the date is about 12 days later than would be expected (dating error?). He said, "In Egypt in the morning of Wednesday, 9 Dhu al-Qa`da (Oct. 26) during the latter half of the night until the morning, the stars were very disturbed--which are called shooting stars. The heavens were filled with starry shooting stars scattered east and west, south and north. No one was able to gaze at the heavens because of the numerous starry shooting stars."

902: "In the month Dhu al-Qa`da of the year 289 (of the Hegira) died king Ibrahim ben Ahmet, and during the same night were seen great numbers of stars, which moved, as if they had been darted through the atmosphere, from a culminating point, and rushed down on the right and left, like rain. On account of this phenomenon, this year was called the year of stars."
      The Italian text Chronicon, which was written around 1178 by Romualdus, notes that on the night of October 13, people in Taormina, Sicily, "saw small starlike fires moving to and fro through the air..."


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 935 January 24

931: The Chinese text Ssu-Tien-Khao records that on October 15, "Many stars flew, crossing each other," while on October 16, "Many stars flew and fell."

934: The Chinese text Liao-Chih-Pen-Chi records that on October 13, "Stars flew like a shower in the southwest."
      The Chinese text Ssu-Tien-Khao records that on October 14, "Many stars flew, crossing each other"


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 968 March 15

967: The Japanese text Nihon Kiryaku records that on October 14, "Stars scattered from the northeast to the southwest all night."


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1001 June 8

1002: The Chinese text Thien-Wen-Chih records that on October 12, "Scores of small stars fell."
      The Japanese text Nihon Kiryaku records that on October 14, "Meteors flew from the northeast to the southwest at midnight," while on October 15, "Meteors flew early in the morning."


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1035 January 6

1035: The Japanese text Fuso Ryakki records that on October 14, "Meteors appeared in the morning."

1037: The Japanese text Fuso Ryakki records that on October 14, "Meteors appeared at midnight."


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1069 March 4

No Recorded Meteor Showers


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1102 June 25

1101: The 12th century French text Chronicon Sancti Maxentii records that on October 17, "stars were seen to fall from the sky."


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1135 March 3

No Recorded Meteor Showers


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1167 November 29

No Recorded Meteor Showers


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1201 January 14

1202: Several Muslim historians writing during the 13th and 14th centuries describe a significant meteor shower seen around mid-October. Al-Dhahabi (1274-1348) wrote in Siyar a'lam al-nubala', "the stars were disquieted and flew like the flight of locust. This continued until the dawn and the people were terrified and they made haste with prayers."


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1234 October 29

1237: The Japanese text Azuma Kagami records that on October 19, "Meteors appeared in the morning."

1238: The Japanese text Konendai Shiki records that on October 18, "Countless large and small meteors appeared with white-red color at midnight."


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1268 January 8

No Recorded Meteor Showers


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1300 November 15

No Recorded Meteor Showers


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1333 September 12

No Recorded Meteor Showers


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1366 October 18

1366: The Portuguese text Cronicas dos reis de Portugal (1600) records that on the morning of October 23 "there was in the heavens a movement of stars, such as men never before saw or heard of. From midnight onward, all the stars moved from the east to the west; and after being together, they began to move, some in one direction, and others in another. And afterward they fell from the sky in such numbers, and so thickly together, that as they descended low in the air, they seemed large and fiery, and the sky and the air seemed to be in flames, and even the earth appeared as if ready to take fire. Those who saw it were filled with such great fear and dismay, that they were astounded, imagining they were all dead men, and that the end of the world had come."


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1400 May 20

No Recorded Meteor Showers


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1433 July 30

No Recorded Meteor Showers


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1466 July 31

1466: The Japanese text Gohokkoin Shokaki records that on October 22, "Meteors flew from the southwest to the northeast."


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1499 September 6

No Recorded Meteor Showers


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1533 February 25

1532: The Korean text Yollsong Sillok records that on October 24, "Stars flew like a shower."

1533: The Korean text Yollsong Sillok records that on October 24, "Stars flew like a shower in all directions."
      The Chinese text Thien-Wen-Chih records that on October 24, "Countless large and small meteors flew in all directions crossing each other till dawn."
      The Japanese texts Konendai Shiki and Taiseiki record that on October 25, "Many stars flew in the hemisphere and fell on land and sea."

1538: The Korean text Yollsong Sillok records that on October 26, "Meteors appeared in all directions."


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1567 March 13

1554: The Korean text Yollsong Sillok records that on October 24, "Meteors appeared at intervals."

1566: The Korean text Munhon-Piko records that on October 26, "Meteors flew like a shower in all directions."


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1600 July 20

1602: The Chinese text Thien-Wen-Chih records that on November 6, "Hundreds of large and small stars flew, crossing each other."
      The Korean text Munhon-Piko records that on November 11, "Many stars flew in all directions."


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1633 June 21

1625: The Korean text Yollsong Sillok records that on November 4, "Meteors appeared in the whole sky."
      The Korean text Munhon-Piko records that on November 5, "Many stars fought in the west."
      The Korean text Yollsong Sillok records that on November 6, "About ten meteors appeared in midair."


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1666 June 5

1666: The Chinese text Thien-Wen-Khao-Ku-Lu records that on November 7, "A great star fell. A small star followed." [The actual date was given as November 8 and Imoto and Hasegawa presumed this was an error].


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1699 October 10

1698: The Japanese text Shinzan-Shu records that on November 8, "Meteors fell like the weaving (a shuttle?)."


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1733 October 1

No Recorded Meteor Showers


Comet Tempel-Tuttle Passed Perihelion in 1767 February 24

No Recorded Meteor Showers


Read about the Leonids in 1799


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