Friday, 9 November 2012

Comet 168o

In the parish records at Alstonefield is an astrological phenomenon that the villagers witnessed

Very strange and fiery meteors in form like a sword, appeared North West by west in December 1680, and continued about 6 weeks after which ensued a long and tedious drought.

Between 1663 and 1680 there were 5 comets seen over England which to the contemporary mind linked celestial activities and the unsettled times that the country was living through with plague, pestilence and revolution all occurring at this time. There is a sense that whoever wrote the comments in the parish journal was simply echoing the feelings of the time that comets seen in the sky were a fearful celestial sign of events that were being played out on earth. People believed all over the world that the Day of Judgement was approaching.

But the 17th century saw a growing interest in the heavens through the work of Galileo, Newton and Halley aided by technological advance such as telescopes and an intellectual framework on which to develop concepts

On November 14, 1680, Gottfried Kirch the German astronomer detected a new comet, becoming on that day the first person to discover a comet using a telescope. Astronomers throughout Europe tracked its position for several months. It was visible in the Northern hemisphere and by the end of that year the comet became bright enough to be seen at noon as it completed its hairpin turn around the Sun. The long, golden tail of the comet of 1680 was estimated to be 30,000,000 miles in length.

Originally thought to be two comets, the comets of late 1680 and early 1681 were in fact a single comet observed before and after perihelion- the point closest to the sun- a situation that hindsight reveals as critical in the determination of the comets trajectory. Upon examining the course of comets, it is easy to believe that some of them must occasionally fall into the sun. The comet 1680 approached so near, that, at its perihelion, it was not more distant from the sun than a sixteenth part of its diameter; and, if it returns, which some predict, in the year 2255, it may then fall into the sun. This must depend upon the accidents it meets with in its course, and the retardation it suffers in passing through the sun's atmosphere