Earth unharmed by Halley’s Comet (1910)

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Halley's Comet (1910)


Switched by tail of celestial vagrant with the gentlest sort of caress


Fears of the superstitious, who looked for dreadful catastrophes, prove baseless


[Special Dispatch to The Call]

LICK OBSERVATORY, Mount Hamilton, May 18. — Three great telescopes have swept the heavens unceasingly all day and all night, searching among the planets, following the constellations in their journeys through space, peering with their piercing eyes through the alleyways of the universe for a trace of Halley’s comet, which swept across in its path with the sweep of the sun, losing its brilliancy in the dazzle of the greater luminary. All day and night scientists followed the wheeling of the cosmic bodies, but for all their vigil, nothing of the vagrant was seen.

What may be seen at 3 o’clock tomorrow morning, when the bright moon, which has drowned whatever of sweeping tail or luminous glow that might otherwise have been seen, has set, the astronomers hardly venture to surmise. There may be but a faint glow seen, or perhaps meteors and celestial pyrotechnics, of a brilliant and awe inspiring kind.

Dimmed by sun

So dazzling has been the alternate brilliance of the sun and the moon that the astronomers have not been able to point to any phenomena that showed the earth had passed through the comet’s tail. This appendage is so light, so tenuous, that observer W W Campbell could not satisfy himself by any means that we were actually passing through the rear guard of the speedburner. Eight hours were consumed in this passage, however, and 1,000,000 miles of the tail were encountered by the earth.

The tail is lagging behind the comet now, because of some unknown phenomena, and not following it closely as of old.

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Nothing is seen

All day and night, Dr W W Campbell, director of the observatory, with Dr H B Curtis, Dr H B Aitken and Dr W H Wright, examined the skies at five minute intervals in an endeavor to discover the comet they knew was between them and the sun. But their efforts were vain, and they were not able even to see a spot on the sun made by the comet’s body. Mariners everywhere on the Pacific have been on the lookout for the comet all day, however, and it is thought that some of the more learned shipmasters will bring in charts and reports of the much-sought wanderer. Out on the Pacific the position for viewing the comet was much better all day than from this spot.

This morning at 3 o’clock, an observation was taken, and the tail of the comet discovered to be 122 degrees, or 19,000,000 miles, in length. But as the tail points away from the sun and we get more nearly a lengthwise than a sidewise view of it, the appendage is undoubtedly in reality much longer than the figure given.

Better results today

Dr Campbell has high hopes of witnessing some interesting phenomena at 3 o’clock tomorrow morning, when the moon sets. At this time, shortly after midnight, the astronomers are discussing the possibility of seeing the glow of the tall, when darkness is granted by the moon’s disappearance, or perhaps the fall of meteors or the sweep of shooting stars.

Photo: Halley’s Comet on May 13, 1910, as seen from the Lowell Observatory in Arizona.

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