On this day in 1799 the first meteor shower was recorded when Andrew Ellicott Douglass witnesses the Leonids meteor shower from a ship in the Florida keys.
Upon seeing the meteor shower, Douglass wrote in his journal that the “whole heaven appeared as if illuminated with sky rockets, flying in an infinity of directions, and I was in constant expectation of some of them falling on the vessel. They continued until put out by the light of the sun after day break.” This journal entry is the first known record of a meteor shower in North America.
The Leonids meteor shower is an annual event – With the appearance of the comet Tempel-Tuttle (about every 33 years), the Leonids can produce rates of up to several thousand meteors per hour that can light up the sky on a clear night. It was this event that Douglass witnessed in 1799. It is said that the return of the comet Tempel-Tuttle in 1833 and the spectacular meteor shower inspired the first organized study of meteor astronomy.