How Halley’s Comet Frightened Humanity

(ORDO NEWS) — The appearance of “long-tailed stars” in the sky has been the biggest mystery for people throughout the history of mankind. Since ancient times, they were considered a bad omen. They were associated with natural disasters and all possible troubles: epidemics, floods, famine and pestilence.

Halley’s comet, as the brightest and most visible to the naked eye, has also become the most frightening for mankind. Why did the Greeks consider her a harbinger of mourning? What world events coincided with her appearances? And how, in 1910, Halley’s Comet nearly caused a real Armageddon?

Long history

The most popular of the comets revolves around the Sun with a period of 75-76 years in a highly elongated elliptical orbit. This period was established in 1705 by the English scientist Edmund Halley, after whom the celestial body was named. But in general, humanity has been familiar with Halley’s comet for more than 2000 years.

As early as 239 BC, the Chinese chronicle “Shi Ji” mentions her appearance. The Dowager Empress died that year. Then it was mentioned in Babylonian, Greek, Byzantine chronicles and even in ancient Russian chronicles – the comet’s appearance preceded the bloody battle on Kalka.

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Legends and myths

The appearance of comets has always been interpreted by people as a sign of great trouble. They were afraid because they could not find an understandable and logical explanation for this phenomenon.

This is how many myths appeared. In the puffy tail trailing behind the comet, the Greeks saw the flowing hair of a woman (hence the name “cometis”, that is, “hairy”), and according to ancient beliefs, a woman could wear flowing hair only in mourning.

Therefore, in Greece, the comet was considered a harbinger of universal mourning. In other countries, primarily in the East, a huge saber was seen in the tail of a comet – a sign of war.

Impressions from the appearance of bright celestial bodies were so strong that even enlightened people and scientists succumbed to prejudice: for example, the famous mathematician Jacob Bernoulli said that the tail of a comet is a sign of God’s wrath.

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Global Look Press/Science Museum/ASTD001020

All matches are random

Sometimes it seemed that the mysterious connection between the appearance of Halley’s comet and the terrible cataclysms taking place on Earth still exists.

In 1066, for example, England received news of the upcoming Battle of Hastings with the Normans and the death of King Harold in that battle.

During the next appearance of the comet, in 1456, it was considered responsible for earthquakes, epidemics, mysterious blood-red rains, and even the fact that two-headed calves were born. In those days, the Pope allegedly anathematized the comet, which he considered the instrument of the devil.

And even in the 19th century, Halley’s comet plunged Europeans into fear and horror. In 1835 and the following year, when she was clearly visible in the sky, she was blamed for the death of the Austrian emperor Franz, for the illness of his successor Ferdinand, and for the great fire, during which almost all of New York burned out.

In the same 1835, scientists, using spectral analysis, found that molecular bands of cyanide, carbon monoxide and other compounds were observed in the composition of cometary atmospheres.

Therefore, rumors spread very quickly about the poisoning of the earth’s atmosphere with cometary gases dangerous to human health.

The end of the world did not take place, which did not prevent, however, after 75 years, the emergence of an incredible panic due to the upcoming new meeting with Halley’s comet.

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Global Look Press/Scherl

Hysteria of 1910

According to the calculations of astronomers, in May 1910, the Earth had to pass through the tail of a comet, stretching for tens of millions of kilometers.

Some psychosis began: everyone remembered the spectra of cyanide, discovered in 1835 in that very tail (the latest photographs, moreover, confirmed this). There was a panic, actively fueled by the press. The story about new, unknown bacteria allegedly located in the tail was especially exaggerated.

In addition, they wrote that Parisian churches were packed with parishioners, whom the clergy did not have time to confess, about miners’ strikes in the USA, about panic in Italy.

“Emergency newspapers and leaflets with drawings and tragic announcements come out every hour. I run to the square to buy them. fun, love, grief and horror. They stopped working already during the day ,” the artist Valentina Khodasevich described the events of that spring.

It was reported that scammers became more active in France, who sold unusual means, which, by the way, were very popular: special umbrellas that protected comets from the harmful effects and antidote pills that neutralized poisonous cosmic gas.

And in England, in order to save from the negative impact of a “poisoned” comet, they offered to rent an entire submarine.

Interesting Facts About Halley’s Comet

  • For the entire time of the existence of man on Earth, the comet, presumably, was observed 31 times;
  • The approach of 1910 was especially impressive – not only because of the extremely small distance between the comet and the Earth, but also because the first photograph of this event was taken that year;
  • Halley’s comet played an important role in the development of science – since the time of Aristotle, who first put forward this theory, people considered comets to be ordinary perturbations in the planet’s atmosphere. It was the studies of Halley’s comet that helped to refute this idea and prove that comets are independent cosmic bodies.
  • The nucleus of Halley’s Comet is made up of water ice mixed with carbon monoxide, methane, nitrogen and other frozen gases. It is the melting of this icy mixture that creates the bright comet’s tail;
  • Spectral analysis confirmed the presence of organic traces in the comet. This allowed scientists to put forward the theory of panspermia – the idea that life on Earth could have arisen as a result of a similar space object falling onto its surface.


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