(Investigator 32, 1993 September)

The dark day of 1780 and the falling "stars" of 1833 and 1866, often called "unexplainable and "supernatural", have an explanation and were probably not supernatural.

The darkened sun followed by a darkened moon were due to smoke of forest fires mingled in places with rain clouds, and the falling "stars" were spectacular examples of the Leonid meteor shower which occurs every year!

Examples of these events being considered supernatural fulfilment of Bible prophecy include the Adventist books Bible Readings for the Home Circle (1896) and The Coming King (1906) and the Russellite publication The Battle of Armageddon (1897) by C.T. Russell. The Bible verses cited were Matthew 24:29 and Mark 13:24-25.

According to Bible Readings for the Home Circle the Bible predicted a 1,260 year period (538-1798 AD) when the Papacy was in power. Then in 1798 the "time of the end" began. (pp 29-34, 38, 224, 429)

The darkening of the sun, according to this book, was to occur: "in those days after that tribulation". (p. 38) That "tribulation" allegedly meant the "persecution of the saints" by the Papacy which persecution was dissolved by Papal Bull in July 1773. (p. 38) The darkened sun on May 19, 1780 therefore supposedly fulfilled prophecy by occurring "in those days" of Papal power but also "after that tribulation" which ended in 1773. (p. 38)

The dark moon of the night of May 19 supposedly fulfilled Mark 13:24 "and the moon shall not give her light."

Meteor showers when "The whole heavens seemed in motion" occurred November 13, 1833 supposedly close enough to 1773 to be considered as "immediately after that tribulation…"

Russellite belief closely resembled Adventist belief.

A 1,260 year long persecution "ended … practically in 1776 and actually in 1799". (The Battle of Armageddon 1897, p. 584) May 19 1780 was "in those days … of Papal power" (p. 585)

And concerning the falling "stars": "The phenomenon was to a limited extent repeated in 1866 but the event of 1833 seems to have accomplished the purpose of the sign…" (p. 590)

Russellites also taught: "The 'Time of the end,' a period of one hundred and fifteen (115) years, from A.D. 1799 to A.D. 1914, is particularly marked in the Scriptures." (Thy Kingdom Come 1891 p. 23)


The dark day, Friday May 19 1780, extended over much of the north eastern USA — Connecticut to Maine.

Dr. Jeremy Belknap of Boston wrote that the sky was not only dark but had "the smell of a malt-house or coal kiln." Phineas Sprague of Massachusetts wrote in his diary that it rained at 10 a.m., grew dark at noon so that candles were needed at lunchtime, grew light after 1.00, but: "in the evening the cloud came over us again." The darkness was not uniform everywhere and in some areas of the north east USA nothing unusual at all was reported.

Joseph Ashbrook in The Astronomical Scrapbook writes: "the obscurity was at least partly due to smoke from great fires in northern New Hampshire. At the time that region was being opened to settlement, and it was the custom to clear away the forests by burning."

A similar effect occurred on September 26 1950 when a "blue sun" and a "blue moon" were observed at Edinburgh Observatory. The cause was the soot particles originating in forest fires across the Atlantic Ocean in central Canada. And in recent years smoke from fires lit to clear part of the Amazon forests dimmed the sun up to 1,000 kilometres away.

Meteor showers occur when the Earth crosses a dust/debris stream of a comet.

Meteoric dust is unevenly distributed along a comet's entire orbit like a huge tube of debris billions of miles long in Space. Meteor showers will be spectacular, or otherwise, subject to whether the dust where the Earth passes through the "tube" is thin or comparatively thickly spread.

The Leonid showers appear every November. Usually the display is modest with perhaps a dozen "shooting stars" per hour. However, on November 17 1966 it briefly reached 40 per second! Other spectacular displays happened in 1799, 1833 and 1866. The Leonid showers of 1899 and 1933 were mediocre.

The dust stream which provides the Leonid meteors is from the comet Tempel-Tuttle 1866, which has a period of 33 years. Meteor showers are more likely when the Earth passes through the debris close to the comet itself with close approaches possible at 33-year intervals.

Comet dust is light fluffy stuff of low density and no meteor shower survives its trip through the atmosphere to reach the Earth's surface.

Larger, rock-like objects which actually reach the Earth from space are called "meteorites".

About 10 different comets are associated with major annual meteor showers.

Seventh Day Adventists still believe in the prophetic significance of the celestial events of 1780 and 1833. The Russellites in contrast shifted the start of the "time of the end" from 1799 to 1914 and did this in 1929. Consistent with changing what had been "particularly marked in the Scriptures" they also had to stop seeing significance in 1780 and 1833.

Whether Jesus words about the sun and moon being darkened and the stars falling are fulfilled in forest-fires and annual meteor showers we leave for the reader to decide.

(B.M. with assistance from Michael O'Leary)


Author not named 1901 Christi gloreiche Erscheinung [Christ's Glorious Appearance]

Author not named 1896 Bible Readings for the Home Circle, International Tract Society, pp 35, 39, 67

Russell, C.T. 1897 The Battle of Armageddon, WBTS, pp 584-591

White, J.E. 1906 The Coming King, Signs of the Times Publishing, pp 116, 119, 123, 127