#TBT: Comet Biela and the Great Michigan Fire of 1871

House fire

House fire, photo by Ogedn

“The proponents of the cometary explanation cite many fascinating details confirmed by eye witness reports: the descent of fire from the heavens, a great ‘tornado’ of fire rushing across the landscape and tearing buildings from their foundations, descending balls of fire, a rain of red dust, great explosions of wind accompanied by blasts of thunder, buildings exploding into flame where no fire was burning, and a good deal more.”
~thunderbolts.info

We all probably know of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and the Chicago Fire that burned over three miles of the city to the ground, but perhaps you’d care to take “Fires beginning October 8, 1871” for $500? Four fires began 144 years ago on this day in 1871: the Great Chicago Fire, the Great Michigan Fire, the Peshtigo (Wisconsin) Fire and the Port Huron Fire.

I’m going to let the crew of thunderbolts take it away with an excerpt from their fascinating feature The Comet and the Chicago Fire:

Contrary to popular folklore, the Chicago fire is not the worst in U.S. history. It was not even the worst to occur on October 8 that year. The same evening—in fact, at the same time, about 9:30—a fierce wildfire struck in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, over 200 miles to the north of Chicago, destroying the town and a dozen other villages. Estimates of those killed range upward from 1200 to 2500 in a single night. It was not the Chicago fire but the simultaneous “Peshtigo Fire” that was the deadliest in U.S. history.

And there is more. On the same evening, across Lake Michigan, another fire also wreaked havoc. Though smaller fires had been burning for some time—not unusual under the reported conditions—the most intense outburst appears to have erupted simultaneously with the Chicago and Peshtigo fires. The blaze is said to have then burned for over a month, consuming over 2,000,000 acres and killing at least 200.

Concerning the Michigan outburst, it is reported that numerous fires endangered towns across the state. The city of Holland was destroyed by fire and in Lansing flames threatened the agricultural college. In Thumb, farmers fled an inferno that some newspapers dubbed, “The Fiery Fiend.” Reports say that fires threatened Muskegon, South Haven, Grand Rapids, Wayland, reaching the outskirts of Big Rapids. A steamship passing the Manitou Islands reported they were on fire.

There can be no doubt that weather conditions at the time favored wildfires. But never before, and never since, has the U.S. seen such wildly destructive simultaneous conflagrations. This “coincidence”, combined with many unusual phenomena reported by eyewitnesses, has led some to conclude that an extraordinary force, one not of the earth, was a more likely “arson” than either a misbehaving cow or a regional drought.

In 1883, Ignatius Donnelly, author of Ragnarok: the Rain of Fire and Gravel, suggested that in early historic times our Earth suffered great catastrophes from cometary intruders. To this claim he added: “There is reason to believe that the present generation has passed through the gaseous prolongation of a comet’s tail, and that hundreds of human beings lost their lives”. He was referring to the conflagration of 1871.

Definitely read on for much more about the possibility of a comet’s tail, perhaps Comet Biela, fueling the fires.

Ogedn took this photo of a controlled burn by the local fire department, who practiced on this house before letting it burn. View the photo background big and see this and lots more in their slideshow.

Tons more Michigan history on Michigan in Pictures.

PS: I definitely did more research on this than I should have on this, and while the cometary theory and Comet Biela was observed to be broken apart on its pass in 1846, it may be that Biela’s Comet returned in September of 1872. In any case check the article out and also their Picture of the Day for a lot more than you’ve probably thought about.

Into the cold clear night with Shawn Malone … and NASA

Shawns Comet

Comet Pan-Starrs over Headlands International Dark Sky Park, photo by Shawn Malone/Lake Superior Photo

Michigan in Pictures regular Shawn Malone of Lake Superior Photo is one of the best photographers of the Michigan night sky around, and on the evening of November 22nd , you have a chance to learn from her at a Night Sky Workshop. She writes:

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a wonderful place to discover the magic of night sky photography, due to the abundance of easily accessible dark sky locations. These night sky workshops are designed for those looking for a basic understanding of the equipment and technique necessary for capturing the night sky.

Photography workshops will take place at LakeSuperiorPhoto- gallery/studio on 211 S. Front, Marquette Mi. 49855. There will be an hour class at the studio where I will cover techniques for capturing night sky photos, from basic camera set up and settings, to a brief discussion of post processing to helpful websites and software to help you come away with great night sky photos.

During this workshop we will concentrate on the techniques necessary to capture low light and night sky photos. Hopefully the weather cooperates and we have a chance to photograph the stars or maybe even possibly the northern lights. No matter what weather conditon – we will conduct the workshop and you will come away with everything you need to know about capturing great night sky images.

She has 4 spaces left – click here to register!

You can purchase this photo of Comet Panstars at Lake Superior Photo. Be sure to follow her at Lake Superior Photo on Facebook and see more of Shawn’s photos on Michigan in Pictures.

Speaking of comets, NASA’s Rosetta Mission is going to go all Bruce Willis on a comet THIS MORNING! EarthSky reports:

The Philae (fee-LAY) lander is scheduled to touch down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12, 2014 at 10:35 a.m. EST (15:35 UTC). We on Earth – 300 million miles (500 million km) away – won’t know the lander has set down successfully until a signal is received back at about 11:02 a.m. EST (16:02 UTC). Both NASA and ESA will provide live online coverage of this first-ever attempted landing on a comet.

Rosetta spacecraft will do the equivalent of transferring an object from one speeding bullet to another, when it tries to place its Philae lander on its comet. Read more about the mission’s dramatic attempt to land on a comet here.

After landing, Philae will obtain the first images ever taken from a comet’s surface. It also will drill into the surface to study the composition and witness close up how a comet changes as its exposure to the sun varies.

Philae can remain active on the surface for approximately two-and-a-half days. Its “mothership” – the Rosetta spacecraft – will remain in orbit around the comet through 2015. The orbiter will continue detailed studies of the comet as it approaches the sun for its July 2015 perihelion (closest point), and then moves away.

Click through for more and follow it live from NASA right here!

Capturing Comet PANSTARRS

Comet Pan-Starrs ... 3-17-13

Comet Pan-Starrs … 3-17-13, photo by Ken Scott

EarthSky.org is a fantastic site for all things astronomical, and their post detailing everything you need to know about Comet PANSTARRS has great info on the first of 2013 major comets. The comet was discovered by the PANSTARRS telescope in Hawaii and they explain that:

Comet PANSTARRS is still visible through binoculars in the Northern Hemisphere, if you know right where to look. Note where the sun sets in the west. Some 60 to 75 minutes after sundown, seek for the comet about two to three binocular fields to the right, or upper right, of the sunset point on the horizon. Comet PANSTARRS now sets at nightfall or very early evening at mid-northern latitudes. From here on out, the comet will dim a bit day by day, while the waxing moon will brighten daily. So it’s hard to say how much longer Comet PANSTARRS will be readily visible through binoculars. Each day, Comet PANSTARRS goes a few degrees northward (to the right) on the sky’s dome, toward the constellation Cassiopeia the Queen.

…No matter how bright it gets in March, the comet will surely fade as April arrives, as it moves away from the sun and back out into the depths of space. But it will be located far to the north on the sky’s dome and will be circumpolar for northerly latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. That means it might be visible somewhere in the northern sky throughout the night for northern observers. What’s more, the comet will be near in the sky to another beautiful and fuzzy object in our night sky, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the nearest large spiral galaxy to our Milky Way. If the comet truly is bright then, and if it still has a substantial tail, it’ll be an awesome photo opportunity!

Read on for more and also check out the michpics post on Comet ISON which has the possibility of  being so bright that you can see it in the daytime!

Ken shot this last weekend. You can see it on black, check out the sunset he captured before this and see more great work in his Night Sky slideshow. If you’re looking to purchase this or other shots, definitely head over to KenScottPhotography.com!

More nighttime photography on Michigan in Pictures.