BENJAMIN V. MARSH
Copyright 2012 Richard Taibi
Died: 30 October 1882, Burlington, New Jersey
Marsh’s meteor results appeared in AJS continuously from 1861 until 1867 and briefly again in 1870 and 1872. He, like other astronomers, made careful watches of what were called then the “August” and “November” meteors. We now call these annual showers the Perseids and Leonids, respectively, because they emanate from the constellations of Perseus and Leo, facts that were unclear in the 1830-1850 time period. The newer names were adopted late in the 19th century.
A member of the meteor research community
Marsh frequently corresponded with other meteor observers in the United States and England. Hubert Newton’s correspondence file in Yale University’s archives contains 31 letters from Marsh during the interval 1860-1869. In addition to meteor shower reports that were printed in AJS, Marsh’s letters demonstrate that he was a student of the aurora borealis, also called the Northern Lights. His letters reveal that a friendly relationship existed between the Marshes and the Newtons in which they exchanged family photographs and invitations to visit. In an 1869 letter, Marsh praised Newton’s meteorite collection for its quality. The men discussed advances in understanding meteoric phenomena and Marsh congratulated Newton about his correct prediction that the Leonids would storm again in 1866. Marsh was apparently aware of Giovanni Schiaparelli’s (1835-1910) theory that meteors were cometary debris because he wrote Newton that the Italian’s theory was “a very plausible solution to sundry mysteries.” Schiaparelli was the first to understand and describe how meteors were debris from comets and that they were strewn behind a comet, in its orbit. Schiaparelli was able to link a comet discovered in 1862 with the August (Perseid) meteors because he noted their orbits’ similarity.
Marsh’s letters revealed that he frequently corresponded with prominent English meteor astronomers, members of the Luminous Meteor Committee (LMC), a committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS). Robert Philips Greg (1826-1906) a wealthy amateur astronomer was a LMC member who sent Marsh a star map with meteor path plots on it for Marsh’s examination. Marsh received annual BAAS reports which contained a yearly meteor summary by the LMC. Marsh donated an 1863 report to the Library of Congress and it is currently in the Library’s collection. It was autographed by its author, Alexander Herschel (1836-1907), an English astronomer who studied meteors’ chemical composition as well as their radiants. In an 1867 letter Marsh wrote Newton that he had been exchanging meteor plots with Herschel for 18 years and that his work was included in the British Association Catalog of meteors.
Copyright 2012 Richard Taibi
Garrett, Phillip C., Editor. (1892) History of Haverford College for the First 60 Years of its Existence. Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, especially pp. 463-4.
Glaisher, James, et.al. (1869) Report on Observations of Luminous Meteors 1867-1868. Report of the 38th Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science; held at Norwich in August 1868. London: John Murray. Pp. 314-428, especially p. 400.
Herrick, Edward Claudius. (1861) Meteoric Observations, August 10, 1861. American Journal of Science, Second series, vol. 32, November, pp. 294-5.
Herrick, Edward Claudius. (1862) Meteoric observations in December, 1861. American Journal of Science, Second series, vol. 33, May, pp.148-9.
Kronk, Gary W. (1988) Meteor Showers, A Descriptive Catalog. Hillside, NJ and Aldershot, Hants, UK. p. 246.
Marsh, Benjamin Vail. Correspondence to Hubert Anson Newton in Yale University Library’s Manuscripts and Archives, P.O. Box 208240, 128 Wall St., New Haven, CT. 06520-8240. Newton’s correspondence from Marsh, reported above, is contained in Record Unit 274, Series I, Box I, folders 1, 2, and 7. Dates of referenced letters are: 7 November 1864, 10 March 1866, 28 November 1866, 10 January 1867, and 13 May 1867.
Newton, Hubert Anson. (1861) Grand Meteor of August, 1861-The August ring of Meteors. American Journal of Science, Second series, vol. 32, November, pp. 448-9.
Rahway & Plainfield Monthly Meeting Religious Society of Friends, Record of Births, 1185 Births from 1706 – 1888. http://plainfieldfriends/tripod.com/birthreg.htm)
Accessed September 12, 2012