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There’s a Lot to Wish Upon with Leonid Falling Stars

Trevor Bexon on Flickr

What would you do if you looked up at the sky early one morning, before sunrise, and saw thousands of exploding stars falling from the sky?

This actually happened in the early hours of November 12, 1833. People in Boston, Massachusetts estimated 72,000 stars fell per hour. The Lakota people, native Americans, were so impressed that they reset their calendar to remember the event. Many thought it might be a sign of the biblical end times. It was called, “The Night the Stars Fell.”

An astronomer at Yale, Denison Olmsted, wanted to know the scientific reason for this event. He put a notice in newspapers across the United States asking people to send him data about what they saw and where in the sky the stars fell. It was the first scientific crowdsourced citizen science effort.

From non-scientists who sent him information, Olmsted figured out the meteor shower came from the constellation Leo. He thought it was a case of the Earth passing through space dust. Today, we know that every November our planet passes through comet debris which causes what we call the Leonids.

These days, we only see 15 stars fall an hour, not thousands. But citizen science projects and public interest in science still exist and can be traced back to the Night the Stars Fell.

Learn More



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