The history of meteor showers in culture
For as long as there have been meteor showers, there have been people trying to make sense of them. Ancient cultures saw them as omens, portents, and even messages from the gods. Today, we know that meteor showers are caused by particles of dust and ice left behind by comets as they orbit the sun. But that doesn’t make them any less spectacular, or any less steeped in history and legend.
The oldest known record of a meteor shower comes from the Chinese Book of Songs, which includes a poem about “falling stars” that dates back to 687 BC. The poem describes a meteor shower that was so intense, it caused people to flee in terror.
The ancient Greeks were also fascinated by meteor showers, and saw them as a sign that the gods were angry. The most famous story about a meteor shower comes from the battle of Marathon, when a shower of “falling stars” was said to have foretold the Greek victory over the Persians.
The Leonids, a meteor shower that occurs every November, has a particularly rich history. In 902 AD, the Leonids caused such a panic in Japan that the emperor ordered all of the fires in the empire to be extinguished, in case they attracted more of the “flying stars.”
In 1833, the Leonids produced one of the most spectacular meteor showers in history, with an estimated 100,000 meteors falling per hour. The shower was so intense that it was said to have lit up the sky like daylight, and caused many people to believe that the world was coming to an end.
The Perseids, another well-known meteor shower, also have a long and storied history. In ancient times, the Perseids were associated with the goddess Persephone, and were said to be her tears. In more recent times, the Perseids have been connected with the legend of the shooting star, which is said to grant wishes to those who see it.
Meteor showers have always been a source of wonder and fascination, and will no doubt continue to be so for centuries to come.