“You have come to make many mothers cry. You are evil; I hate you! It has been a long time since I saw you. But as I see you, you become even more terrible because I know that you are a symbol of the destruction of my country. “
These were the words of an English pastor, Elmer, in 1066 when a Halley comet appeared in the sky. The Halley comet was thought to look like a flaming sword in the night sky, a traditional symbol of war and death. Took as a message of God, that its wrath would soon strike the people. If we look at history, we find several examples of some fictional stories and myths about comets.
History of Comets
As per available history, it was first seen in 87 BC during the reign of Tigers, king of Babylon, who presented it as the new era of kings. Rabbi Musa Ben Nachman, a Jew living in Spain, wrote about it that God takes two stars and throwing them on the Earth to kick start massive flooding.
In ancient Mongolia’s sapphire story, comets were called the “daughter of the devil” and a warning of destructive storms. They were considered responsible for earthquakes, diseases, and red rain whenever they appeared in Switzerland. It was even accused of giving birth to a two-mouthed animal.
The Romans recorded it in the spring of 44 BC. It was said to have appeared for the assassination of Julius Caesar. Caesar was the son of Octavian (Emperor Augustus). It appeared in the sky during Caesar’s funeral. This prominant event was often celebrated in ancient sources as “A star appeared during the day, and Augustus convinced the people that it was for Caesar,” said Enid Virgil. When Emperor Louis witnessed this reappearance, he devoted himself to prayer and repentance. Another comet was accused of excessive bloodshed during the battle between Pompeo and Caesar.
In 912 A.D, Halley’s comet was recorded in Alastair’s Annals which is why it was called “a dark and rainy year. A comet appeared.”
The Chinese astronomer of the Han Dynasty recorded this comet in 12 BC as mentioned in their book “Han”. The Chinese were the first people who started measurements of the orbits comet. According to their calculation, the appearance of three head comet meant a threat to the country, and a four-headed comet meant an epidemic.
Halley’s return took place a few years before the birth of Jesus Christ in 12 BC, which was thought to be the star of Jerusalem. In 1066, the comet was spotted in England and was considered an omen, and the same year the English Herald II died at the Battle of Hastings. After the appearance of Halley’s comet, Genghis Khan was isnpired to turn his conquests towards Europe in 1222. In 1666, when this comet again appeared at the skies, a plague and a massive fire broke out in Britain.
Edmund Halley noted three appearances of the comet from 1531 to 1682. A significant development occurred when Halley discussed his views with Newton about laws of motion. Newton also helped Halley to obtain Flasted’s data about the 1682 comet. By studying the data of the comsets appeared in 1531, 1607, and 1682, respectively, he concluded that it was the same comet that appeared repeatedly. He presented his results in 1696.
The word comet comes from the English word “Comenta”, a Greek word means “to wear long hair”. A comet is an icy, tiny body in our solar system.
When comets pass close to the Sun, they heats up and starts releasing gases, this process is called Outgassing. When Halley’s comet approaches the sun, its compounds with low boiling points, such as water, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and other ice, begin to rise above the surface of its nucleus.
This causes the comet to form a coma in the ice vapor, releases dust particles, that travel with the gas away from the nucleus. The gas in the coma absorbs the solar energy and then emits it again at different wavelengths.
How tail is formed?
Solar ultraviolet rays ionize the gas molecule in the coma. The pressure from the solar wind, which is a flow of charged particles emitted by the sun, pulls the molecular ions of the coma into a long tail, which can travel a distance of more than 100 million kilometers.
After the 240 BC period of Haley’s orbit around the Sun was found between 74–79. Its orbit around the sun is very elliptical.
Earlier, Aristotle believed that this was due to obstructions in the Earth’s atmosphere. But Edmund Halley, in his summary of the “Astronomy of Comets” in 1705, used Newton’s laws for calculating the effects of gravity of Jupiter and Saturn in Halley comet’s orbit.
He concluded that each of these comets (seen in 1531, 1607, 1682) were appearing after a period of 76 years. He predicted that it would return in 1758. But Haley died in 1742, unable to see his prediction come true.
The comet was seen on December 25, 1758, and was a great triumph of Newton’s laws of motion, and a clear demonstration of their explanatory power. The comet was first named by French astronomer Nicolas in 1759 in honor of Halley.
Halley’s comet was last seen in 1986 and it could be seen in 2061 and then in 2134. But now it wouldn’t take as a sign of God’s wrath, war, or destruction, but an astonishing astronomical sight.
As The great Marie Curie said:
“There is no need to be afraid of anything in life, it is just to understand, now is the time to understand more, so that we are less afraid.”
Also, Read: The Buzz of a Space Wonder: Comet Neowise
Anas Rehman is a student of Fsc, Pre-Medical at Punjab College Gujrat. He is passionate about reading and writing Science from a historical perspective.