A series managed by Andrei Dorian Gheorghe,
Valentin Grigore and Alexandru Sebastian Grigore,
composed of 5 articles first published by the International Meteor Organization

Introductory photo (Perseid meteor 2008): Alex(andru) Conu

Design: Florin Stancu



-by Dimitrie Olenici-

(first published in Proceedings of the International Meteor Conference,
Pucioasa, Romania, 21-24 September 2000)

Bucovina is the name for the northern part of Moldavia,
one of the three Romanian medieval states (near Wallachia and Transylvania).
This region is for Romania what the Valley of the Kings is for Egypt,
a place full of royal buildings, churches and monasteries
(Arbore, Balinesti, Humor, Moldovita, Probota, Voronet, Sucevita, etc.),
famous throughout the world for their external frescoes.
It is interesting that these pictures with religious scenes contain
a lot of astronomical themes:
the Sun, the Moon, the Zodiac, stars, eclipses, meteors etc.
Here are some meteor examples.

At the Voronet Monastery, built in 1499
(under the ruler Stefan cel Mare - Stefan the Great)
and painted in 1537, nowadays nicknamed "the Cistine of the Orient",
we can see on the western side a composition called "Doomsday" (Figure 1).

The Doomsday, Voronet 1537

Up there, on the right side and on the left side of the Supreme Judge,
two angels keep the Sun, the Moon and the Zodiac,
a sign that the tissue of time is stretched and the Doomsday begins.
From the Judge's feet, a river of fire from the sky starts towards the Earth,
and we identify it as the trace of a fireball.
On the left, there are sinners and Hell, and on the right, there are good men and Heaven.
Right on the river of fire there are those who wait for their judgment.

At Humor Monastery, a creation of the chancellor Teodor Bubuiog,
built in 1530, and painted in 1535 by the artist Toma,
there is work on the southern side called "The Siege of Constantinople".
After three months of siege, the city was conquered by the Ottomans on 1453 May 29.
The town with its palaces and churches, a Christian procession,
and even the besiegers' clothes are reproduced in this picture.
Above them, there are falling stars, interpreted by Christians as divine fury.
A similar picture, smaller but much better conserved, exists at Moldovita Monastery,
which was build in 1537 during the period of the ruler Petru Rares.
There, meteors are represented as incandescent rocks that spread from a cup
which falls from the sky (Figure 2).

The Siege of Constantinople, Moldovita 1537

The question is whether Eta Aquarid and Sagittarid meteor showers
were seen at that time.
If so, it means they were very strong, and at Humor and Moldovita Monasteries
we have special evidence of their existence.
Or was another meteor shower active then, which does not now exist?

We meet a shocking, unique picture on a variant of the coat of arms of Moldavia
at Dragomirna Monastery (built by the ruler Miron Barnovschi),
sanctified in 1727 August 30, and dedicated to the Holy Spirit and Whitsuntide.
On the coat of arms of the entrance tower, we meet the Aurochs, Sun, Moon,
a big star and six falling stars.
Considering that the Aurochs, the symbol of Moldavia,
was identified with the constellation Taurus,
and that the six meteors come from the constellation of Perseus,
we think that the Perseid meteor shower is reproduced here.
Probably, men of those times saw the flames
as the Holy Spirit from Whitsuntide (Figure 3).

The coat of arms of Moldavia at Dragomirna Monastery, 1727

The meteor theme is also met in old religious books and icons.
A wooden icon at Gainesti Church is significant.
This icon reproduces the idea of the World's End from the Revelation of Saint John.
"There was a great earthquake.
The Sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair,
the whole Moon turned blood red and the stars in the sky fell to Earth,
as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind."
(Revelation 6, 12-13)
The painter probably had some astronomical knowledge,
because he reproduces the Moon ("blood red") in the positions of the four phases
around the Earth,
a solar eclipse ("The Sun black like sackcloth of hair"),
the Moon's shadow can be observed on the Earth,
and fireballs and meteors fall from the sky ("stars fall down like figs") (Figure 4).

The icon of the Apocalypse from Gainesti Church. Sketch: Irina Tibulca

Also at the library of Dragomirna Monastery exists a Book of Psalms from 1616
whose pictures were made by Anastasie Crimca.
In one of the drawings King David can be seen in front of his soldiers
and above them a globe which can be interpreted as a big fireball
(or a solar eclipse?) (Figure 5)

Kind David’s army, Dragomirna 1616

These are some meteor themes discovered by us on ornaments from northern Moldavia.
They are invaluable artistic treasures,
but their astronomical analysis could obtain important results
because science without culture is like a comfortable house in an immense desert.


-Dragut, V. (1973): Humor. Editura Meridiane, Bucuresti.
-Miclea, I., Floresc, R. (1976): Dragomirna. Editura Meridiane, Bucuresti.
-Dragut, V., Lupan, V. (1982): Pictura murala din nordul Moldovei.
Editura Meridiane, Bucuresti.

(English translation from the Romanian by Andrei Dorian Gheorghe
and the Planetarium Suceava collective)

Dimitrie Olenici (in the left) with his fellows and disciples,
waiting for the Perseid meteor shower near his particular observatory
in Horodnic, Suceava County, Bucovina, Romania, 2004



-by Dan Mitrut-

(first published in WGN, the Journal of the International Meteor Organization,
28:1, 2000)

Meteors -
Celestial manna
In conservation.
A sign that the stars
Have abandoned their belief
In the gravitation law.

Meteors -
They never know that
Matter’s selfishness
Gives birth to the martyrs.

Meteors -
The crusades
Of the galactic children
Hitting the Earth.

All of them, anonymous elements
On the orbit of Atmos.

-Dan Mitrut-

In Romanian mythology,
the Cosmic Tree is described in carols like this one:

Up on the mountain top,
The Pine Tree of the pine trees grows up.
It is so big and swollen
That it fills up all the sky:
The Sun in its needles,
The Moon in its branches,
Thousands and thousands of stars
Among its twigs.

The Cosmic Tree is found in mythologies across the world.
It usually represents the support of the heavens, about which the sky revolves.
Sometimes it is on a high mountain, as here;
sometimes the tree itself is replaced by a great mountain.
In the Romanian conception,
we have the stars as drops of light clinging to the Cosmic Tree,
as the Tree emerged phosphorescent from the primordial waters.
These drops remain on its branches and twigs, but sometimes, irregularly,
they detach themselves, and become falling stars.
The beauty of the celestial spectacle of these falling stars must have been partly what
inspired the ancient Romanians to polarize meteors into two chief magical aspects:
for divination or foretelling the future,
and exorcism.
The study of divination by watching the heavens and interpreting the events seen there
is called astromancy.
The Romanian astromancers studied the color, speed, and length of the meteor,
as well as its place of appearance and the direction of its fall.
From this information, and a pre-prepared question,
the astromancer would construct an appropriate answer for his client.
So, if we ignore his intentions, we can consider this fortune-teller as
an early empirical meteor observer.
In an exorcism, the meteor or meteorite was seen as a wonderful object,

The girl to be
And illuminated
Like the stone falling
Prom the sky,

or like a mythical flying being with magic powers,

With a golden tail.

Here, the event or object becomes a tool connecting Heaven and Earth,
seen as concentrating magical power into achieving the desired effect.
A further conception of what meteors are was offered by an old Romanian exorcist:

Up there in the sky, we cannot yet see Paradise.
The stars were also created by God,
and afterwards put on the canopy of heaven.
This means they fell there.
Thus, at the birth of a man, a star falls in the sky,
stays there until he dies, and then falls again.

The value of such conceptions was unchallenged.
Before they became objects for scientific study,
meteors represented a source of knowledge about man's destiny,
and an opportunity to relish things beyond the rational frontiers of human existence.


I wish to thank Alastair McBeath and Andrei Dorian Gheorghe
for preparing this English trans­lation for me.


[1] A.D. Gheorghe, A. McBeath, "Romanian Meteor Mythology",
in Proceedings 1997 IMC,
Petnica, Yugoslavia, A. Knöfel, A. McBeath, eds., IMO, 1998, pp. 82-88.
[2] R. Vulcanescu, "Romanian Mythology", Bucharest, 1954. In Romanian.
[3] F.E. Laurentiu, "The Look of Orpheus, or the Power of Exorcism",
Vitruviu Publishing House, 1998. In Romanian.

Dan Mitrut at SARM’s Perseids 2003 Event in Corbasca, Bacau



-by Andrei Dorian Gheorghe and Virgil V. Scurtu-

(first published in Proceedings of the International Meteor Conference,
Pucioasa, Romania, 21-24 September 2000)


Castor and Pollux -
symbol athletes.
Asteroid 3200 Phaeton -
antenna for transmissions of
celestial sportive

-Andrei Dorian Gheorghe-

As we know,
the Geminid meteor shower is the one most looked forward to at the end of every year,
having a rich Zenithal Hourly Rate and a low speed.
Only the cold weather of mid-December could be a problem for people of curiosity,
though not for meteor observers.

This meteor shower was recognized by Romanian peasants
before scientific meteor astronomy was born.
It is interesting that for them,
the main stars of the radiant - constellation Gemini - were not
Castor and Pollux, the sons of Zeus in mythology,
but Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of ancient Rome,
again confirming their half-Latin origin (Ottescu, 1907).

The Romanian peasants thought that on the Night of Saint Andrew
the sky is opened for the appearance of luminous divine heralds (V. Anestin).
(The Night of Saint Andrew is the date of the Geminid maximum,
November 30 on the old style calendar,
meaning circa December 13-14 on the new style calendar,
adopted by Romania only in 1924.)

Another Romanian tradition was rendered poetically
by Vasile Alecsandri (1819-1890),
a great Romanian poet and playwright, laureate of the Latinity Prize in 1881 in France.
He composed a poem in 1857 entitled just "Saint Andrew's Night,"
in which a lot of ghosts ("strigoi" in Romanian), led by the Devil,
appear in a cemetery near its church, confessing their sins:
the first of them stole food from poor girls,
the second tortured its people,
the third sold its country...
Suddenly, a voice from the sky shouts:

Fire and hatred
To fall eternally on you!

After which,

The sinful bones
Fall into graves
And over the sacred walls,
A divine fire passes.

Obviously, this was the beginning of the maximum of the Geminid meteor shower.


-Ottescu, I. (1907): Romanian Peasants' Beliefs in Stars and Sky. Bucharest.
-Alecsandri, V. (1970): Poems. Bucharest.

Prof. Virgil V. Scurtu presenting a course of astronomy in the forest,
after the antique model, at SARM’s Perseids 1997 Event
on the Voievodes Hill, Targoviste, Dambovita County



-by Harald Alexandrescu-

(first published in Proceedings of the International Meteor Conference,
Pucioasa, Romania, 21-24 September 2000)

“How many of us
will touch the atmosphere…”
says the meteoroid,
graviting in the void.

“How many of us
will touch the Earth…”
says the meteor,
burning in the air.

“I am the chosen one!”
says the meteorite,
buried in the ground.

-Andrei Dorian Gheorghe-

This work paper will describe the six main meteorites fallen in Romania,
that were observed by eye witnesses and identified immediately
at the places of their falls.
Chemical analyses showed that they have the composition, structure,
and aspect of the chondritic, stone meteorites,
prevailing the silicon material reporting to sulphids.
The meteorites are:

1. The meteorite from Madaras (Mures County, September 4, 1852).
It fell in the daytime, on a nice warm weather with clear skies,
producing a continuous noise with strong blasts from time to time
(as a result of its fragmentation), heard in 80 km distance.
From this meteorite, over 30 fragments were discovered, spread on a 2 km2 surface,
having masses between 250 g and 5 kg.

2. The meteorite of Cacova (Caras-Severin County, May 19, 1857).
It drew near to the ground with a very high speed in the morning
producing typical noises.
At the impact in the ground, it produced a blast and a smoke cloud,
sinking 7 cm into the ground and kindling the grass.
It kept a high temperature after it was dug out.
Its mass is 510 g, and its aspect seems like a battered cone.
It is kept in the collection of meteorites of the Hofmuseum in Vienna, Austria.

3. The meteorite from Ohaba (Sibiu County, October 10, 1857).
It is also kept at the Hofmuseum in Vienna.
It fell in the night producing special luminous and sonorous effects,
and it was discovered one morning later, buried in the ground.
It is discovered by a black crust and has an aspect of an irregular pyramid
with a height of 35 cm.

4. The meteorite from Jadari (Timis County, March 31, 1875).
It fell just in the village, in the court of some peasants.
Nine fragments were discovered weighing 144.12 g.
It is possible that the big fragments were not discovered.
This meteorite, falling during daytime, produced only acoustic phenomena.
Its fragments were cold in spite of they had a black crust
and spread a strong smell of sulfur.
One of its fragments (3.93 g) is at the Mineral Museum of Cluj-Napoca (Romania).

5. The meteorite from Moci (Cluj County, February 3, 1882).
It fell around 5 o'clock, its fragments being spread on an elliptical area of 15 km by 3 km.
The dazzling brightness of the fireglobe, having a violet color,
could be seen in the whole north-west of Transylvania.
After the meteorite disappeared, a white-grey trace remained circa 2000 fragments,
weighing 300 kg.
This was a typical case of a meteorite of explosion.
Fragments from it exists in many museums today,
in Cluj-Napoca being exhibited over 42 fragments.

6. The meteorite from Sopot (Dolj County, April 27, 1927).
It fell at mid-day in the south-west of the village.
It's luminous trajectory was not observed, but there were heard its blasts and noise
from the moments of explosion and fragmentation.
There were discovered 953.29 g of fragments,
the biggest part of them being at the Craiova Museum today.
Other fragments are in particular collections
and at the Municipal Astronomical Observatory of Bucharest.

Finally, it can be told that this Observatory, named after its founder,
Admiral Vasile Urseanu,
reached 90 years of existence in 2000 and was visited in the 1910s
for astronomical debates
by Victor Anestin (the first organizer of meteor astronomy in Romania)
and other members of the first Romanian Astronomical Society.
This tradition is respected today,
the Urseanu Observatory hosting many general meetings
of the SARM (Romanian Society for Meteors and Astronomy)
and reserving a permanent room for the Bucharest SARM branch.


V. Stanciu, E. Stoicovici (1939): Meteorites from Romania. Cluj-Napoca.
Other papers by I.C. Sangirzan, V. Pampuccian, I. Dragulinescu

(English translation from the Romanian by Andrei Dorian Gheorghe)

Dr. Harald Alexandrescu (1945-2005), Coordinator of Bucharest Municipal Observatory,
at the Muddy Volcanoes in Buzau County
(during an excursion of SARM’s Perseids 1995 Event)



-by Virgil V. Scurtu-

(first published in Proceedings of the International Meteor Conference,
Pucioasa, Romania, 21-24 September 2000)

“Fireball, fireball, you were wonderful
penetrating into my atmospheric soul,”
said the Earth,
“but do not touch
my terrestrial body, please!”

-Andrei Dorian Gheorghe-

Spiru Haret (1851-1912) was a great Romanian mathematician,
politician and man of culture.
In 1978 he gave a very appreciated doctor’s degree thesis at Sorbonne (France),
entitled “About the invariability of the big axles of the planetary orbits”.
Between 1907 and 1912 he was the Minister of education in Romania,
helping the studies of astronomy.

On December 2, 1911 (old style calendar),
he submitted a working paper to the Romanian Academy,
mentioning he saw for three seconds, among the clouds,
a giant fireball on the night of the November 29 (old style calendar too,
that means the December 12 on Gregorian calendar) above Bucharest.
Analyzing Haret’s description, we can associate that fireball with the Geminids,
with the following features:

-a magnitude (m) of about -20 (brighter than the Full Moon;
-a trajectory of about 100 km for a speed (V) of 35 km/s,
consacred in the case of Geminids;
-the zenith distance of the radiant (Z) of about 27 degrees,
the radiant being very high, beyond the meridian, to south-south-west.

Calculating the mass of the meteoroid after a formula indicated by P. Babadjanov
for a luminous meteor (1987, page 85):

2.5 log M = -m + 63.5 - 10 log V - 2.5 log cos Z

with V in cm/s and M in grams, I obtained a mass of about 19 t.
Admitting after F. Verniani the density of the Geminid meteors as 1.1 g/cm3,
and applying a few elementary formulae for calculating its size,
I obtained a diameter of about 3.2 m.

However, applying the same formula in the case of the Tunguska object,
its mass would be incomparably smaller than in reality.
So I dared a kind of extrapolation, making a few corrections for being closer
to the mass of the Tunguska object accepted today, and I obtained a new formula:

2.5 log M = -m + 97 - 14 log V - 2.5 log cos Z

Applying this adjusted formula for the fireball of Spiru Haret,
but using a smaller magnitude (-15),
I obtained a mass of about 160 t and a diameter of about 6.5 m.
Much more impressive!

As a conclusion of this speculation, we can ask ourselves finally:
was Bucharest near to a new Tunguska phenomenon in 1911?


-Babadjanov, P.B. (1987): meteors and their observation. Moskva.
-Haret, S. (1911): Opera, Bucharest.

(English translation from the Romanian by Andrei Dorian Gheorghe)

Prof. Virgil V. Scurtu presenting a course of astronomy on the Voievodes Hill,
SARM’s Perseids 1996 Event

© 2008 SARM
(Romanian Society for Meteors and Astronomy)