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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/526

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

as the terrific beat ignites the iron, announces its entrance into our atmosphere. It may be red, yellow, white, green, or blue, all these hues having been observed. Then follows the explosion, caused by the contact with the air piled up ahead, and in certain instances a loud detonation or a series of noises is heard, which may be repeated indefinitely until the meteoric mass is completely destroyed, and drops, a shower of disintegrated particles, which fall rattling to the ground.

The blaze of light does not continue to the earth, nor does the meteor, should it survive, strike the ground with the velocity with which it entered the atmosphere, as the latter often arrests its motion so completely that it drops upon the earth by its own weight, well illustrated by the meteorites of the Hesslefall, which dropped upon ice but a few inches thick, rebounding as they fell. Thus the atmosphere protects the inhabitants of the globe from a terrific bombardment by destroying many of the largest meteorites, reducing the size of others before they reach the surface and arresting the velocity so that few bury themselves deeply in the soil.

The writer observed a remarkable meteor in 1894. It entered our atmosphere, apparently, over the Mojave Desert, in California, and exploded over the San Gabriel Valley, though without any appreciable sound, and after the first flash disappeared, leaving in the air a large balloon-shaped object of yellow light which lasted some moments, presenting a remarkable spectacle. In this instance the meteor had probably exploded or been consumed, leaving only the light to tell the story, the atmospheric armor of the earth having successfully warded off the blow.

Viewing the facts as they exist, the earth, a seeming fugitive mass flying through space, vainly endeavoring to break the bonds which bind it to the sun, hunted, bombarded with strange missiles hurled from unseen hands or forces from the infinity of space, it is little wonder that the ancients and some savage races of later times invested the phenomena with strange meanings. It requires but little imagination to see in the flying earth a living monster followed by shadowy furies which hurl themselves upon it, now vainly attempting to reach the air-protected body or again striking it with terrific force, lodging deep in its sides amid loud reverberation and dazzling blaze of light.

Meteorites have been known from the very earliest times, and have often been regarded as miraculous creatures to be worshiped and handed down from family to family. The famous meteorite which fell in Phrygia, centuries ago, was worshiped as Cybele, "the mother of the gods," and about the year 204 b. c. was carried to Rome with much display and ceremony, when people of all classes