Sunday, October 7, 2012

1880 Comet

I tend to be a sky-watcher -- both early in the morning and with so many of the beautiful sunsets we have.  When I came across information on comets in the local newspaper in the late 1800s, I wondered what they thought, how much was known about the stars, and if local residents were stargazers.

One article read:

People who have been afraid that the unexpected comet would smash this earth to "smithereens" can compose themselves, for it is supposed to be 45,000,000 of miles distant and is receding at the rate of 1,300,000 miles per day.

Later in the same year:

Some of the astronomers say that Scheberie's comet, when it reaches its greatest brilliancy, will display a longer train and be a more magnificent sight than that of 1838.  The train is already enormously broad at the nucleus, but as yet dim to the naked eye, and at a length of two or three degrees, becomes almost invisible.  The comet reached its perihelion August 23, and will now develop rapidly.

Another article, but this time about the northern lights:

The illumination of the heavens on Sunday night was the grandest sight of nature it has ever been our lot to behold.  It began in the early part of the evening with very much the appearance of the northern lights, but it was as much in the west as in the north.  The light streaks shot far up into the sky and cast over the earth a lurid glare.  Later a belt of white came up from the east and formed right angles with those from the north, and finally not only these, but the north, south, east and west was alike, casting jets of white and red and all concentrated to the very center of the sky.  The flickerings of electricity could be plainly seen from near the earth's surface to the zenith and it was even predicted by some that the last day was at hand, but we went calmly to rest, thinking of the witty Irishman who said: "Tut and be jabers Pat, who ever heard of the last day coming in the middle of the night."

Then back to the comet:

Some of the astronomers assert that the comet is split, and others insist that it is as sound as a silver dollar.  In either case, it's still a good enough comet for all practical purposes.

And the last article I found for that year:

Who in this vicinity has not seen the comet?  Wake up, ye sluggard, from your drowsy bed between the hours of four and five a.m. and behold this flaming meteor on its fiery path!

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