It's the only short-period comet that's visible to the naked eye, and its year circuit means it's the one comet that pretty much everyone can hope to see once, if not twice, during their lifetime. Because of this uniqueness and its often dazzling appearances, it's become something of humanity's companion throughout human history, popping up again and again in historical records. Astronomers recently modeled the comet's approach in BC, then looked for ancient texts that matched its probable appearance.
The previous earliest recorded appearance - or, as it's more technically known, apparition - was by Chinese scholars noting the passage of the comet in BC, which is three apparitions later than the BC event.
The model suggests the comet would have been visible for about 82 days in BC, from the ancient equivalent of June 4 to August Amazingly, the ancient Greeks recorded an event that pretty much perfectly matches that description. Authors from that year described a wagon-sized meteor that struck northern Greece one day, which quite understandably terrified the neighboring population and created one of the ancient world's most popular tourist destinations.
Significantly, the authors note the presence of a comet in the sky at the time the meteor struck, and the comet remained in the sky for about 75 days.
Considering atmospheric conditions might have slightly reduced the 82 day presence of Halley's Comet, that's an excellent match. It gets better. The records say the comet appeared in the western sky, and it came at a time of high winds and shooting stars.
Strong winds are common in Greece during the month of July, and Halley's Comet moved into the western sky on July At that time, Earth would have been directly under the comet's debris field, which explains the shooting stars. As for that wagon-sized meteorite, it's possible the comet pushed an asteroid off course and made it hit Earth, but as researcher Eric Hintz explains, it's probably more likely that "it was just a really cool coincidence.
So that's the earliest known record of Halley's Comet, at least for now.
The comet has probably been in its current orbit for anything from 16, to , years. Indeed, if it's the latter, then Halley's Comet has been visiting Earth since the first emergence of anatomically modern humans, which would be another really cool coincidence. Either way, Halley's Comet has been visiting humanity for a long time, and writing predates the BCE apparition by at least three millennia, so it's possible an even earlier sighting will turn up in the records of ancient Sumer or Egypt. After these first recorded appearances in and BCE, Halley's Comet starts appearing with regularity every 75 or 76 years.
Who really discovered Halley's Comet? - BBC Science Focus Magazine
Babylonian tablets mark its apparitions in both and 87 BCE, and that second appearance may actually have been recorded in the local currency. A coin featuring the Armenian king Tigranes the Great features a star with a curved tail on his crown, and there's some thought that this is meant to be Halley's Comet. Tigranes could have seen the comet during its closest approach to the Sun on August 6, 87 BCE, in the eighth year of his reign, and uses its brilliant appearance as a sign that his rule marked the beginning of a new era, a time of the king of kings.
Speaking of which, there's some thought that the comet's apparition in 12 BCE provided the basis for the biblical tale of the Star of Bethlehem.
Brandenburg Gate: A Brief History
Written By: Paul Weissman. See Article History. Start Your Free Trial Today. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:.
Months before its expected return, the French mathematician Alexis Clairaut employed…. He sent it to the German astronomer Wilhelm Olbers, who was so impressed that he arranged for its publication that same year in the important German technical journal Monatliche Correspondenz and proposed…. Giotto was named after the 14th-century Italian painter Giotto di Bondone, whose —06 fresco The Adoration of the Magi includes a realistic depiction of a comet as the Star of….
He was also a statesman who took part in the revolutionary events of his age. History at your fingertips. Sign up here to see what happened On This Day , every day in your inbox! By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Notice. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox.
Ten Facts about Halley's Comet
Help us improve this article! Contact our editors with your feedback. Edit Mode. Halley's Comet. Tips For Editing. You may find it helpful to search within the site to see how similar or related subjects are covered. Any text you add should be original, not copied from other sources.
In a paper in the Journal of Cosmology, researchers Daniel W. The celestial visitor was often considered a bad omen, and it was linked to everything from the death of kings to natural disasters. The historian Flavius Josephus described the comet of 66 A. In , meanwhile, the Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Pious feared the comet was a signal of his downfall and tried to ward off its influence with fasting, prayer and alms for the poor. The comet may have also crept into works of art. People began watching the comet with a more scientific eye in the 16th and 17th centuries, but it was still causing anxiety as recently as Before the comet passed by without incident that spring, many people sealed up their homes to keep out the fumes, stocked up on gas masks, and went to churches to pray for salvation.