Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lovecraft's First Comet

"The first comet I ever observed was Borelli's — in Aug. 1903."

Indeed this must have been exciting for young Lovecraft. It first was visible as early as 24 July, and at least as late as the end of the month as noted in articles below. Of course his 13th birthday was 20 August 1903. Larger observatories had it tracked for much longer periods.

For young Howard, he probably tracked it from a week or so before his birthday through about a week after his birthday depending on the weather (cloudiness) at the time.

Recall that Howard had ended Grammar school in June 1903, so was very free in his activities these several weeks later. It is as yet unknown (to Chrispy) if Chester and Harold Munroe had astronomical interests at this time, but it's highly probable he spoke much about it to them.

It's also pretty likely that by now Lovecraft was rushing to the library each month to readt Popular Astronomy that carried articles constantly by Pickering and Lowell - though Bornelli's comet was most likely announced in the newspaper after 22nd or 23rd July 1903. The August-September Popular Science had a major spread on the comet - much after the fact.

The most complex data are from the Lick Observatory (Bulletin No. 47, listed as "Borelly") and can be found by clicking the link attached to the blog title.

Here are other independent and contemporaneous notes.

Known also as the Borelly comet: "Still another comet was discovered on June 21 by M Borelly at Marseilles. It became conspicuous early in August, but later on in the month it approached too near the sun to be seen."


"The Friend", August 1, 1903, Vol. LXXVII, No.3, p.27,

Text:Borelli's comet now visible in this latitude is the brightest seen for about twelve years At present it is as bright as the pole star It is said to be traveling at about twenty five miles a second and is something like 26,000,000 of miles from the earth It can be seen best about nine o clock in the evening when it is plainly visible to the naked eye in the northeastern sky On Eighth Month 27th the astronomers have calculated that the comet will be 31,000,000 miles from the sun when it will begin to recede.
Popular science monthly, Volume 64, p. 88.
The comet was noted by Alexander Graham Bell in reference to the Aurora Borealis:

PATTERN MAKERS JOURNAL, p. 19 (August 1903)
A comedic note:

"The Summary, August 8, 1903, "News of the Week" segment.

Text: A third tail to the Borelli comet has been discovered by the astronomers at the Yale Observatory Photographs were taken on July 24 and 27 and these snow a third tail but it is also to be seen from these negatives that all the tails are broken.

The Railway conductor, Volume 21‎, Page 231, 1904

And this was picked up in a number of the small press as evidenced here... "The Anamosa Prison Press", Vol. 6, No. 36, p.7 dated Saturday April 16, 1904.

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