GiottoAdoration_of_the_Magi

The comet as the Star of Bethlehem in Giotto’s The Adoration of the Magi, 1305

May 25, 240 B.C.E.: Chinese astronomers Shih Chi and Wen Hsien Thung Khao chronicle the earliest recorded sighting of Halley’s comet at its closest approach to the sun (perihelion).

It wasn’t Halley’s comet because there was no Edmond Halley until the 18th century. Maybe it should be the Cinese Comet. English astronomer Edmond Halley thought that comets observed in 1531, 1607, and 1682 seem very similar and predicted that they were the same comet returning at regular intervals. He predicted it would return in 1758 and it did on Christmas Day. Halley had died by then, but his named was given to it.

It was after his death that astronomers looking back at earlier records based on Halley’s computation decided that the early Chinese record was this same comet. They also decided that a record of the appearance in 164 B.C.E. and one in 87 B.C.E. recorded on Babylonian clay tablets, and a famous 1066 appearance a few months before the Norman Invasion of England.

Mark Twain was born when it appeared in 1835, and in 1909, Twain said: “I came in with Halley’s comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it.” He died on April 21, 1910, one day after the comet reached perihelion.

 

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