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Meteor Procession 1913

The Great Meteor Procession (GMP) of 1913 February 9 was one of the most remarkable astronomical events to be inscribed in the astronomical record. That evening (ca. 21:05 EST at Toronto) the sky lit up with a procesison of slowly moving meteors (NW to SE). Estimates in reports state there were anywhere from 3 to 50 separate groups of meteors, with the number of meteors ranging from 15 up to the 1000s. Some observers reported colours, such as white, blue, “fire red,” and “golden yellow”, and some mentioned associated aural phenomena, such as a “thunder-like rumbling” in the wake of the procession, or a shaking of the ground characteristic of the explosive fracturing of bolides. A recent contribution to Sky & Telescope has confirmed early published estimates that the recorded path of the GMP extended over a quarter of the circumference of the Earth (Sky & Telescope 125, 2 [2013 February]: 32-34).

The artists of the above image, Gustav Hahn (1866-1962), was a noted Canadian exponent of Art Nouveau, whose studio was very fashionable in the late-Victorian and Edwardian periods. He enjoyed a long teaching career, influencing Group of Seven members such as Franklin Carmichael and Franz Johnston (who also occassionally depicted astronomical subjects). Gustav's father, Dr. Otto Hahn (1828-1904), achieved a technical first in meteoritics by producing and publishing the first photographic micrographs of meteorite sections in his Die Meteorite (Chondrite) und ihre Organismen (1880; Chondritic Meteorites and Their Life Forms) - a work which caused a stir in the age of Darwin and Wallace for its advocacy of panspermia. Both Hahns were memebrs of the RASC (or its earlier incarnations), and friends of the man whose paper on the GMP remains the fundamental point of departure for all subsequent work, C.A. Chant.

Chant clearly went to considerable effort to see that his publication of the GMP was distniguished by a memorable image. Indirect evidence suggests that he was the effective patron of Hahn's original painting, which for decades hung in the administration building of the David Dunlap Observatory (the painting is now in the collections of the University of Toronto Archives and Record Management Services [UTARMS], accession # A2008-0023). As editor of the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Chant had Hahn's watercolour reproduced as a relief half-tone print on tinted paper. One aspect of the technical process may strike 21st-century consumers of astronomical images as remarkable - to quote Rosenfeld & Muir:

Several of the colours Chant and his colleagues desired in the reproduction were not best reproduced mechanically through the photo-chemical half-tone process. It was decided to execute the stars in white, white and gold, and the meteors in gold individually by hand for every single copy of the Journal as the penultimate stage in production prior to tipping-in to the binding. A careful examination of different copies of the print shows that while the general placement of the meteors and stars is quite close, as are their shapes, they are far from identical from print to print. This seems an extravagant way to mass-produce an image now, but it must be  remembered that features added by hand were part of the printing industry from the 15th to the early 20th century, chiefly in the matter of colour . The use of the technique for reproducing Hahn’s GMP image occurred within the context of a venerable industrial practice - JRASC 105, 4: 173.

The image is as evocatively memorable now as when it was first published. Nearly a century ago, the Great Meteor Procession (GMP) was spectacular enough to surprise, delight, and awe the most experienced of meteoriticists, not to mention the casual observer. The same event would doubtless have a comparable impact today.

Astronomical Art & Artifact: Gustav Hahn's Graphic Record of the Great Meteor Procession of 1913 February 9, Rosenfeld, R. A., & Muir, Clark JRASC 105, 4: 167-175

Meteor Procession 1913
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