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Does the Cometary Debris Impact Theory of the Chicago Fire Constitute Pseudo-Science?

  1. Aug 25, 2011 #1
    The Great Chicago Fire of 8-10 October 1871 has inspired many theories as to its origin, one of which involves extraterrestrial origin.

    I'm here referring to the theory that the Chicago Fire, together with several other nearly simultaneous major fires in the region of Lake Michigan and southern Lake Huron (most notably the Peshtigo, Wisconsin firestorm), was ignited by impact with debris from Biela's Comet (still the only comet yet observed whose orbit around the sun intersected with Earth's, and which had been destroyed by solar gravitation at or near aphelion prior to its anticipated 1845 recovery in the course of its outbound leg.)

    I would just like to explore this theory, and still don't know if I'll come up as a supporter or as a debunker when I'm finished.

    I would simply like to know, before I take up this task, whether or not this theory is definitively considered as pseudo-science.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 25, 2011 #2

    Evo

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    Re: Does the Cometary Debris Impact Theory of the Chicago Fire Constitute Pseudo-Scie

    Can you post some credible sources where scientists have proposed that it was an impact that started the fire, I have never seen such a thing proposed. We need to see what you are referring to, Please remember to always provide your sources when you make a post.

    Thanks.
     
  4. Aug 25, 2011 #3
    Re: Does the Cometary Debris Impact Theory of the Chicago Fire Constitute Pseudo-Scie

    Evo:

    Here's one source:

    Wood, Robert (February 3, 2004). "Did Biela's Comet Cause the Chicago and Midwest Fires?" (PDF).

    American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

    2004 Planetary Defense Conference: Protecting Earth from Asteroids
    23 - 26 February 2004, Orange County, California
     
  5. Aug 25, 2011 #4

    Evo

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    Re: Does the Cometary Debris Impact Theory of the Chicago Fire Constitute Pseudo-Scie

    We need links please. And no, I'm not nit picking, if you read posts here on the forum you'll see that this is how it's done. Also, if it is a long document, please post the most pertinent part (only a paragraph or two) to point to the "meat" of what you are referring to.
     
  6. Aug 25, 2011 #5
    Re: Does the Cometary Debris Impact Theory of the Chicago Fire Constitute Pseudo-Scie

    I don't know how to post a link embedded in a quote, but you can find the link in Reference # 14 in the Wikipedia article "Great Chicago Fire" at:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Chicago_Fire" [Broken]

    Here's the abstract:

    DID BIELA’S COMET CAUSE THE
    CHICAGO AND MIDWEST FIRES?
    Robert M. Wood
    Associate Fellow, McDonnell Douglas (retired)
    Newport Beach, California
    ABSTRACT
    On October 8, 1871, a fire started that
    burned much of Chicago, killing 300, and
    destroying $200,000,000 worth of property.
    Most people are unaware that within a few
    minutes, major fires started in upstate
    Wisconsin and Michigan, killing more than
    2000 people in the farming country. Because
    of the poor communications with the upstate
    areas, the magnitude of the upstate horror
    was not known for weeks.
    Biela's Comet, with a solar orbital period
    of 6 years 9 months, had been disturbed by
    Jupiter on a previous passage and broke into
    two large comets. It has been hypothesized
    that one of them struck Earth and broke into
    several smaller pieces. These pieces,
    consisting of frozen comet gases would have
    likely included combustibles like methane
    CH4 and acetylene C2H2 that melted,
    vaporized and explosively ignited, causing
    impressive incendiary results upstate,
    consistent with surviving witness reports.
    Witness reports from Chicago included
    statements that entire basements exploded
    with a blue flame and that red-hot sand came
    raining down. In upstate Wisconsin near
    Green Bay, there were reports of “fire
    balloons” about one meter in size falling
    from the sky that exploded with great heat
    when ignited, incinerating objects struck. If
    fire balloons consisted of methane, one ton
    of methane would be the energy equivalent
    of 12 tons of TNT if stoichiometrically
    burned. There were also reports that the fire
    came directly from the sky, with a trembling
    of the earth – perhaps a symptom of a shock
    wave. The loss of life was the greatest of
    any fire in U.S. history, and the area burned
    of all trees and secondary growth
    approximated the size of Connecticut.
    A two dimensional evaluation by the
    author of the orbit of Biela’s Comet’s two
    parts shows that it is reasonable to
    hypothesize that Jupiter may have disturbed
    either the primary or the secondary comet
    sufficiently to have speeded up its arrival at
    earth by about a year earlier than expected.
    In the plane of the ecliptic, it has been
    determined that one post-Jupiter encounter
    comet solution is period of 3229 days and
    eccentricity of 0.801, thus resulting in earth
    orbit arrival at the right time. It is suspected
    that a precision 3-D calculation will show
    that the orbit parameters are within expected
    comet uncertainties.
    The credibility of this scenario has been
    evaluated to respond to skeptical concerns
    about: the lack of advance warning;
    feasibility of orbits; large fire routinely-
    reported phenomena; inaccurate reporting of
    observations; and the presence of some fires
    already burning upstate.

    Although the Chicago Fire included Mrs.
    O'Leary's barn, the suggestion that her cow
    started it is a traditional story no better than
    speculation that a careless smoker might
    have been in the barn. More generally, this
    example suggests that witness testimony,
    even when inconsistent with the theories of
    the day or the favored media explanations,
    may be reevaluated later and support new
    theoretical interpretations, such as the idea
    that Earth has recently been struck by a
    comet, causing the widespread and ferocious
    destruction of October 8, 1871.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  7. Aug 25, 2011 #6

    Evo

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    Re: Does the Cometary Debris Impact Theory of the Chicago Fire Constitute Pseudo-Scie

    The footnote [14] has a link to the paper presented at the conference. It's highlighted in blue on wikipedia so that you know it's an active link. You click on the link and it takes you to the paper. You can click on the URL in the address bar, put your cursor on it, it should be highlighted which means that you can then copy the address and post it here, like I'm going to do for you below.

    You owe me for this.

    http://pdf.aiaa.org/preview/CDReadyMPDC04_865/PV2004_1419.pdf [Broken]

    And then you can post a blurb.

    continued...
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  8. Aug 25, 2011 #7
    Re: Does the Cometary Debris Impact Theory of the Chicago Fire Constitute Pseudo-Scie

    Yes, I certainly do owe you for that.

    THANKS!!!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  9. Aug 25, 2011 #8
    Re: Does the Cometary Debris Impact Theory of the Chicago Fire Constitute Pseudo-Scie

    Here are some eyewitness accounts, together with my caveats:

    A little less than halfway down the webpage:

    http://www.sott.net/articles/show/148414-Comet-Biela-and-Mrs-O-Leary-s-Cow"

    there begins an extended quotation from: History of the Great Conflagration, Sheahan & Upton, Chicago 1871, the first two paragraphs of which are reproduced below:

    "The summer of 1871 had been excessively dry; the moisture seemed to be evaporated out of the air; and on the Sunday above named the atmospheric conditions all through the Northwest were of the most peculiar character. The writer was living at the time in Minnesota, hundreds of miles from the scene of the disasters, and he can never forget the condition of things. There was a parched, combustible, inflammable, furnace-like feeling in the air, that was really alarming. It felt as if there were needed but a match, a spark, to cause a world-wide explosion. It was weird and unnatural. I have never seen nor felt anything like it before or since. Those who experienced it will bear me out in these statements.

    "At that hour, half past nine o'clock in the evening, at apparently the same moment, at points hundreds of miles apart, in three different States, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois, fires of the most peculiar and devastating kind broke out, so far as we know, by spontaneous combustion."

    ***

    And here are my caveats:

    The people who died without having been singed were, most likely, asphyxiated to death by a phenomenon observed following the firestorms of the Second World War in which the fires suck all the oxygen from the air.

    I don't find the account of Port Huron, MI mill manager Allison Weaver to be credible for two reasons (this is the lawyer part of me speaking), the first being that he claims to have knowledge of the speed with which the house and the mill were consumed by the flames even though his own account says that he was hiding in the well at the time, the second being that I don't see how he, himself, was not asphyxiated in the same manner as those residents of Hamburg who took refuge in solid blast-proof bomb shelters during that city's firestorm of 24 July, 1943. I think he spun a tale in order to impress the mill owner with an account of his heroic efforts to save the owner's property.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  10. Aug 25, 2011 #9
    Re: Does the Cometary Debris Impact Theory of the Chicago Fire Constitute Pseudo-Scie

    I've found some provenance problems with the work I quoted immediately above, that being:

    History of the Great Conflagration, Sheahan & Upton, Chicago 1871

    In seeking supporting citations, all I find are references to a work from 1887 (not 1871), from some guy who calls himself "Humboldt", which moniker seems, to me, to be a pseudonym referring to the great Alexander von Humboldt, whose death in 1859 renders him an unlikely source for material relating to the 1871 Great Lakes fires.

    Sorry!
     
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