Monday, September 13, 2010

Halley's Comet: 1910 and 466 BCE

Some of us have one thing in common with Lovecraft We saw Halley's comet. I was 30 years old when it came my way Fevruary 1986. Lovecraft got to see it April 1910. Search the blog, Chrispy has made several entries. Lovecraftians know that HPL was struck by measles (and probably influenza) and nearly died in January 1910. [Chrispy's dating is mentioned on the blog, but too detailed to go back over here.] He recovered to see Halley's comet in April while he was also taking correspondence courses in chemistry.

Previously, notable sightings were by Edmond Halley (friend of Isaac Newton) who assisted in predicting its periodicity after its 1682 appearance. He noted it was the same that Johannes Kepler had seen in 1607.

It was notable in 1066 as England was being invaded, and famously reproduced on a tapestry. Researchers also determined that Chinese astronomers recorded its appearance in 240 BCE.

Here at the blog, we also are partial to HPL's Colour Out of Space. The two come togther in a newsreport that uncovers a 466 BCE record in Greece.


... a meteorite the size of a "wagonload" crashed into northern Greece sometime between 466 and 468 BC. The impact shocked the local population and the rock became a tourist attraction for 500 years. {Also} accounts describe a comet in the sky when the meteorite fell.

Philosopher Daniel Graham and astronomer Eric Hintz of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, modelled the path that Halley's comet would have taken ...(Journal of Cosmology, vol 9, p 3030). ... the comet was said to be visible for 75 days, accompanied by winds and shooting stars, and in the western sky when the meteorite fell. The researchers show that Halley's comet would have been visible for a maximum of 82 days between 4 June and 25 August 466 BC. From 18 July onwards, a time of year characterised in this region by strong winds, it was in the western sky. At around this time, the Earth was moving under the comet's tail, so its debris field would have made shooting stars.

Plutarch wrote in the 1st century AD that a young astronomer called Anaxagoras predicted the meteorite's fall to Earth, which has puzzled historians ... Graham concludes ... Anaxagoras made a general statement that rocks might fall from the sky.

At this time, says Graham, everyone thought that celestial bodies such as the moon and planets were fiery, lighter-than-air objects. But after observing a solar eclipse in 478 BC, Anaxagoras concluded that they were heavy, rocky lumps, held aloft by a centrifugal force.

"When the meteorite fell, no one could deny it," says Graham. "The headline was 'Anaxagoras was right'."


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