The Leonid Meteor Shower will peak on November 17 & 18, 2023. At the peak, around 15 meteors per hour will be visible. While witnessing one shooting star across the night sky is a thrill, imagine 150,000 meteors an hour. That is the scenario that played out on November 12 & 13, 1833.
The event has been dubbed ‘The night the stars fell’. The meteor shower was so magnificent it woke people from sleep from Canada to Mexico.
Abraham Lincoln, who was well-versed in the night sky, was 24 and boarding with a Presbyterian Deacon. The Deacon woke him up with a knock, certain judgment day was at hand. During the darkest days of the Civil War, Lincoln retold the story as an anecdote, “I sprang from my bed and rushed to the window and saw the stars falling in great showers. But looking back of them in the heavens I saw all the grand old constellations with which I was so well acquainted, fixed and true in their place. Gentlemen, the world did not come to an end then, nor will the Union now.”
The Mormon Church has a few recorded accounts from November of 1833. Mormon refugees from Missouri had been staying along the Missouri River when they witnessed the phenomenon. Joseph Smith was certain the event was fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and recorded a lot about the early morning hours, “…at times appeared like bright shooting meteors, with long trains of light following in their course, and in numbers resembled large drops of rain in sunshine. These seemed to vanish when they fell behind the trees, or came near the ground.”
We now know the Meteor Shower of 1833 is part of the annual Leonid Meteor Shower, which is part of the comet Tempel-Tuttle. A more intense meteor storm occurs every 33 years. The next strong storm could be possible in 2031.