ROMANIAN ASTROHUMANISM (II)
In 2007, the Romanian sky lovers celebrate 100 years
since Victor Anestin began to edit Orion,
the first astronomical magazine in
With this occasion, we republish (first time on the web)
“THE IMPORTANCE OF THE MAGAZINE ORION
IN EARLY EAST-EUROPEAN METEOR WORK”,
an essay by
Andrei Dorian Gheorghe and Alastair McBeath
(vice-president of the International Meteor Organization)
first published in WGN
(the Journal of the International Meteor Organization), 26:1, 1998.
Design: Gabriel Ivanescu
We present a discussion of the Romanian astronomical magazine Orion,
whose first appearance was 90 years ago in 1907.
This journal helped encourage East-European meteor observing
in the yearly years of this century,
and in its second series, more recently, was instrumental in reawakening
astronomical interest in
We also briefly look at some poetic representations of meteors
in Romanian art.
The period around the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries
was an important one in many fields of studies across
when the groundwork for most of the modern sciences
was being laid down or developed.
For the first time, larger numbers of amateurs were encouraged,
and became able, to participate in subjects
previously considered the province of wealthy few.
Various new societies and journals were set up to cater
for the needs of these people,
just as the IMO was founded in 1988, with this journal WGN.
Many of the Western societies and magazines have become well-known
across the world, even those that no longer survive,
but events in
the countries involved, chiefly due to subsequent events during this century.
Here, we wish to examine a Romanian journal, Orion,
and its impact on early East-European meteor work,
during the opening years of the 20th century.
The magazine itself has appeared in two series to date,
between 1907 and 1912 (under Victor Anestin)
and 1990 and 1993 (under Danut Ionescu).
However, firstly, we shall make some comments on the long history of
interest in meteors to be found in Romanian myths and folklore.
METEOR MYTHS AND POEMS
Victor Anestin (1875-1918), already mentioned above,
was the most important of the early Romanian astronomical popularizers.
At the meeting of the
he presented the essay “Comets, Eclipses and
Fireballs Observed in
Romania between 1386 and 1853 from Manuscripts and Documents” (1).
This suggests a long-lived interest in meteors in
which is backed-up by a large number of popular beliefs, superstitions, tales
and especially several lyrical works.
The fundamental national Romanian myth-ballad Miorita (The Little Ewe),
written down from oral tradition by Vasile Alecsandri (1821-1890),
contains the lines:
And a star fell
At my wedding party…
where the “shooting star” is a sign of the speaker’s impending death (2).
In the early tale Zburatorul (The Flying Being),
re-written as poetry by Ioan Heliade-Radulescu (1802-1872),
we find the popular definition of a fireball:
Dragon of light with a fiery tail… (3)
We also discovered the popular exhortation:
Fire, my little fire, (…)
You must become a dragon
With golden scales (…)
With a tongue of fire
And go to my lover
Striking him with your tail… (4)
Meteors were viewed as instruments capable of carrying
“messages” like this between a girl and her future lover,
or as being able to indicate the direction in which her love-to-be lived.
In more modernly-created Romanian poetry,
we still find this interest in the heavens and meteors.
The national poet Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889)
wrote in Luceafarul Hyperion:
A sky of stars below
A sky of stars above
He looked like an unbroken flash
Lost between them. (5)
As a further example, clearly drawing on known scientific information,
Gabriel Donna wrote in Moartele Cerului (The Dead Ones of the Sky):
Is the comet smashed in its race?
Does it seed falling stars on its orbit? (6)
Meteors seems to be almost an integral part of Romanian artistic expression,
scarcely surprising , as bright meteors and meteor storms have inspired
and terrified people for millennia, the world over.
We have examined Romanian meteor myths more fully elsewhere (7).
EARLY ROMANIAN ASTRONOMY AND “ORION”
Many of the key workers in Romanian astronomy in the late 19th
and early 20th centuries were aided and encouraged by the great
French astronomer and astronomical popularizer Camille Flammarion (1842-1925),
and many became members of the French Astronomical Society
set up by Flammarion.
Among these were Victor Anestin, Victor Daimaca (later the first Romanian
to discover a comet, C/1943 R1 Daimaca, found in 1943
just three months before his second comet, C/1943 W1 Gent-Peltier-Daimaca),
and Constantin Parvulescu (later a leading stellar astronomer,
and after whom asteroid (2331) Parvulescu is named),
all of whom went on to become important contributors to Orion,
after Victor Anestin founded the magazine in 1907.
The magazine was very popular from the start, as the only national
astronomical publication in
that in 1908, Anestin was inspired to found the
Flammarion Romanian Astronomical Society,
which all of the leading Romanian astronomers of their day
rapidly became involved with.
Orion was naturally adopted as the Society’s official journal,
issue 2 (15 September 1908) bearing a special three-color cover print
in honor of the event, showing an imaginary view across the surface of Mars,
complete with a lake (perhaps of ice), and dark linear chasms,
looking very unlike
The Society’s inaugural president was
the retired Admiral Vasile Urseanu (1848-1926), the first Romanian
to command a warship in the
In 1908, Urseanu built a public observatory in
This building is still used today as the headquarters
From the outset, Orion had a friend in high places.
Spiru Haret (1851-1912; a lunar crater is named after him),
involved with solar system studies and celestial mechanics
and considered by many the first Romanian genius in astronomy,
also led the Ministry of Instruction between 1907 and his death.
With responsibility for education, he protected Orion,
by ensuring all the secondary schools in
Unfortunately, after his death, despite being very favorably commented on by
King Carol I, the Romanian Patriarch, and Camille Flammarion, amongst others,
Orion ran out of money, and was forced to cease publication in 1912.
Regrettably, no known complete collection exists, so we are unsure exactly
how many issues were eventually published.
However, during its brief life, the journal had assisted in a “golden age”
of Romanian astronomy, in the period before the Great War,
and meteor work had benefited alongside many other topics.
METEOR WORK IN “ORION”
Of the surviving issues, number 4 (15 October 1908) is the first
to bring meteors to prominence, with a cover illustration of a meteor radiant,
where many meteor streaks radiate away from the center,
just as would have been plotted by a good observer
(and similar to what we might expect to find today).
Unfortunately, there is no caption to this, and no stars are shown on the diagram.
While the declination of the radiant can be easily determined
as delta = + 25 degrees +/- 5,
the right ascension scale has alpha = 90 degrees at its center,
decreasing to about alpha = 45 degrees towards both left and right edges.
The shower shown might thus be the Leonids, but on the whole,
bearing in mind the magazine’s name, we feel it is more likely to be the Orionids,
despite the discrepancy between the modern radiant position and this one.
The earliest published meteor observations are in February 1909 issue, pp.21-22,
and discuss three fireballs, all noted as being brighter than Venus, seen on
August 13, 19, and 22, 1908, the latter two both by
the same couple in
In honor of its being the first meteor report we have found,
we reproduce the August 13 report in translation here:
“Mr. D. Calcude from Tecuci (in
region) observed on the night of August 13, 1908, a very great falling star,
at about 1 a.m. civil time.
Although the Moon shone with all its might, this meteor brightened more than Venus.
It appeared under Altair in
leaving a luminous train, and broke into three almost equal parts,
which disappeared simultaneously.”
Issue 15-16, also from 1909, pp.154-155 contains a short article on the Perseids
by Victor Anestin, which we translate here, as we feel it is of particular interest:
“Some evenings before August 10, and for some evenings after that, there is
a celestial phenomenon, perhaps not so commanding as in the past,
but very interesting even now.
Especially from the star eta in Perseus,
countless falling stars are to be seen at this time.
This phenomenon has long been secularly known,
and is recognized by peasants in other countries too.
Sometimes, up to 60 falling stars are seen (per hour?) coming
from the constellation Perseus.
These falling stars are distinctive because of other high speed
and the persistent wakes left in their paths for one or two minutes.
Every night, the Perseid radiant displaces a little further to the east,
which is different to the radiants of other, similar, rains of falling stars.
The Perseid orbit cuts the Earth’s orbit perpendicularly.
The Perseid bodies are considered to be remnants of Comet Tuttle
(now called Swift-Tuttle), which in 1862 passed very close to the Earth,
and which has a revolution period of 131 years.
The Perseids seem well-dispersed on this orbit, because we meet them
every year at the same time, more or less.
The easiest astronomical observation is that of falling stars,
and the Perseids especially are most interesting.
On July 19, this year, I looked for the appearance of the first Perseids,
and I observed that part of the sky between 11:30 p.m. and 12:50 a.m.
At 11:45 p.m., one Perseid, magnitude 4;
at 12 a.m., another Perseid, magnitude 1, superb, with a trajectory
at a perfect right-angle to Deneb.
At 12:45 a.m., one Perseid, magnitude 3, passed to gamma of Cassiopeia;
at 12:47 a.m., one Perseid which traversed the
At 12:50 a.m., another Perseid, magnitude 4, traveled from vita (alpha)
in Andromeda to gamma of Pegasus.
Almost all these Perseids had a bluish color, and were swift.
However, they did not leave any trace behind them.
Probably by the beginning of August, we will record
a minimum of 50-60 Perseids per hour.”
Apart from being a creditable observation of the Perseids so early in July,
and setting aside the minor inaccuracies we would recognize modernly,
including the rather optimistic estimate of Perseid rates at the start of August,
perhaps the most surprising comment is the orbital period of the
Perseids’ parent comet, which most people thought until its return of 1992
was about 120 years.
It is worth noting too that Perseid activity declined dramatically
between 1910 to 1915, reaching a minimum ZHR of just 4 in 1911,
before returning strongly again in 1920, which explains Anestin’s comments
on the shower not being as impressive as in the past.
His remarks on visual meteor observing being the easiest type
of astronomical observation remain just as true today, of course.
The April-May 1911 issue of Orion, p.114, contains a detailed report
by Victor Anestin on a brilliant bolide that had occurred on April 29 of that year,
which was witnessed from several locations over a large part of the country
(sightings from at least seven named towns in
eastern and central
including the capital
The details are very similar to what we often find in
casually-seen fireball reports today, and we feel sure the following comments
will seem all-to familiar to those who have attempted analyses of such events:
“It is very regrettable that the greatest part of them (the witnesses)
were not familiar with the constellations.”!
Unlike much of the rest of the journal, which was written in Romanian, this report
was published in the international scientific language of the day, French.
This demonstrates that in the intervening time, Victor Anestin,
as editor-in-chief of Orion and secretary of the
Flammarion Romanian Astronomical Society,
had also become an unofficial point of contact
for all the Romanian meteor observers, and that the journal was being circulated
Immediately following the bolide report, on pp.114-115,
under the heading “Astronomical Observations”, we discovered another surprise:
“Mr. Odiseu Apostol from
Turnu Severin (in
some falling-star observations.
He systematically observes celestial phenomena,
using the observing plan for such observations
from the Central Meteor Bureau in
This is an unusual notice concerning the level of international meteor activity
and cooperation in those days.
Perhaps colleagues in
“Central Meteor Bureau”, and what happened to it?
Some notes from Mr. Apostol’s observations follow,
and Victor Anestin concludes the item by noting that:
“These observations, made from different towns,
will help in the discovery of new radiants of falling stars…”
A further set of meteor observations, made by the 19-year old Victor Daimaca,
are also given in this issue of Orion, again on p.115, and, as with the bolide report,
these two are published in French.
Unfortunately, as we have seen, Orion ceased publication in 1912,
and no further meteor reports were found in the surviving later issues.
Later governments in
and the communist regime banned its teaching in schools altogether,
so the promising beginnings and first flowering of Romanian astronomy that
Victor Anestin and others had begun, was crushed and all-but forgotten.
When the 1989 revolution swept the communists from
Danut Ionescu single-handedly re-started Orion
(ADG’s Note 2007: in the name of Astroclub Bucharest),
having first obtained the legal right to be the continuer of
Victor Anestin’s Flammarion Romanian Astronomical Society.
The first issue of the second series of Orion appeared in November 1990,
and soon began featuring articles by the new generation of Romanian astronomers,
including the meteor observers, led by Valentin Grigore.
Valentin had actually begun reviving meteor
but Orion gave a further boost to his efforts.
Ten issues of this new Orion appeared, until the May-June issue of 1993,
despite increasing financial difficulties in its production.
Unfortunately, Danut’s health worsened, and he was forced to halt production
of Orion, but, luckily, in October 1993, he was able to begin broadcasting
a weekly astronomical radio program, “Contact Astronomic”,
regularly featuring leading members of the astronomical community,
and in a very real sense, this program has become a broadcast version of
Orion in all-but name.
Meanwhile, the Romanian Society for Meteors and Astronomy, SARM,
had been formed by Valentin Grigore, and, in spite of financial problems there too,
it still continues its good work, including the three-week festival of astronomy
during July and August, Perseide, another of Valentin’s brainchilds.
Although Romanian astronomy had to survive without any form of
national magazine throughout 1994 and 1995, in 1996 a new journal was
launched - Noi si Cerul (Us and the Sky) - which now features articles from
a broad spectrum of Romanian and other astronomers, and,
just as Orion used French to communicate with its international audience,
so Noi si Cerul is now beginning to use English sections to explain
its activities to the wider, international audience.
Valentin was instrumental in setting this journal up too, and it is now edited
by Gelu-Claudiu Radu, another leading Romanian meteor astronomer.
So, 90 years on from the first publication of Orion, Romanian astronomy,
and meteor astronomy, are again starting to thrive, and participate in the work
of the international science community.
We wish all involved a far more successful and trouble-free 90 years ahead
than those now passed!
Finally, and in-keeping with the spirit of Romanian culture,
which has always mixed artistic expression with its science, we present
a poem dedicated to Victor Anestin and his memory.
One day, the goddess Artemis
Slyly killed the hunter Orion
For her pleasure.
But, later, Comet Halley
Honestly revived him…
For our pleasure!
(Andrei Dorian Gheorghe)
The authors wish to express their grateful thanks to Danut Ionescu
for making many materials from the original Orion series
available to them while preparing this article.
(1) E. Botez, “A Lover of the Sky”, Academica, October 1995,
p.31 (in Romanian).
(2) V. Alecsandri, “Romanian Popular Poems”, 1866 (in Romanian).
(3) I. H. Radulescu, “Seraphs and Odes of the Romanians”,
(4) D. Mitrut, “Meteorii si bolizii in legende si descantece romanesti”,
Noi si Cerul 2:6, 1997, p.16.
(5) M. Eminescu, “The Almanac of the Academical Literary-Social Society
(6) G. Donna, “The Sonnets of Urania”, 1902 (in Romanian).
(7) A. D. Gheorghe, A. McBeath, “Romanian Meteor Mythology”,
in Proceedings 1997 IMC, Petnica, in preparation.
ADG’s Note 2007: Established since 2002 in
has celebrated the magazine Orion centenary by launching
an astronomy page entitled just “Orion”
in the magazine Pagini Romanesti in Noua Zeelanda
(Romanian Pages in
transformed after that into an astronomical bulletin
with the same name.
© 2007 SARM
(Romanian Society for Meteors and Astronomy)