15th December 1664. The Comet- A Sign of Things to Come?
In 1456 Pope Calixtus added to the Litany: ‘Lord save us from the Devil, the Turk and the Comet’.
Ralph Glaber, a contemporary writer in 989, described a new star, which is thought to been Halley’s Comet. It appeared in September and ‘all witnessed to its splendour’. It was visible for three months and regarded as a ‘sure sign of some mysterious and terrible event’, and later as the harbinger of conquest and a new king.(1)
In the next century a comet is embroidered on the Bayeux Tapestry, again assumed a premonition of disaster, in this case for Harold the last Saxon king, later killed at Hastings in 1066.
Today a Thursday in 1664 Samuel Pepys noted in his Diary, the appearance of [Halley’s] Comet. In fact between 1664 and 1665 two bright comets appeared in the skies above Britain, and between these, there was an eclipse of the moon-a triple phenomenon considered unique.
It’s not surprising that astrologers of the time were to ascribe many disasters to their appearance. One was John Gadbury who wrote in 1664: De Cometis, ‘These Blazeing Starrs! Threaten the World with Famine. Plague, & Warrs’ to ‘Princes Death; To Kingdoms many Crises; To all Estates, inscrutable losses’.
In 1910 the Comet (named after Edmund Halley son of a Shoreditch soap boiler), and Astronomer Royal 1720-42), passed within 13,000,000 miles of the earth, the closest on its many visits.
The Comet is known as a short period comet, in that its orbit is less than 150 years, reappears every 74 to 76 years. The exact time is difficult to predict as orbits are affected by planetary motion. Halley died 17 years before the Comet returned on 25 December 1758.
It was Halley who realised that comets do not appear randomly but have periodic orbits. The one thing he didn’t do was discover the comet which bears his name, but recognising that the comet he saw in 1682, was the same that had been observed by others in 1456, 1531 and 1607.(2)
Comets are said to originate from the Oort cloud layer, named after a Dutch astronomer. This layer which surrounds the solar system and takes millions of years to move in an elongated orbit round the sun, consists of a small nucleus of ice and dust, which is burnt off by the sun’s heat, and surrounded by an immense cloud of gas and dust.
One comet known as Donati’s, was to appear in the painting by William Dyce; ‘Pegwell Bay, Kent-A recollection Of October 5th 1858’.
Notable comets recently observed were Hale-Bopp Comet in 1997, and Bennett’s Comet of January 1970.(3).
The last appearance of Halley’s Comet was in 1986 and the next visit is in 2061.
(1a) It has since been associated with the ‘Star of Bethlehem’, as described in Matthew 2: 9-19. A comet, later assumed to be Halley’s, appeared in 12 BCE/BC, whilst one was recorded by Chinese astronomers in 5 BC.
Other notable sightings of comets, were just before Jerusalem was captured and destroyed by the Romans in CE/AD 69. Another was seen over Rome, before the murder of Julius Caesar in 44BC, and that of Claudius in AD 54.
(1b) Ref: Book.google.co.uk/Popular Science, June 1882. re 989 comet.
(2) On March 13th in 1758, Halley’s Comet reached its nearest point to the sun as predicted by Halley in 1682.
(3) The Author remembers the brightness of Bennett’s Comet, against a Spring early morning, blue sky, hovering over a church, much like an alien body: awesome!
Ref: Pic from wikipedia.org/bayeux tapestry.
Ref:ianridpath.com/halleyunderstanding.com.A Comet called Halley CUP 1985.