1910 - Comet Halley is visible from Earth. It won't be seen again until 1986.
WHEN THE EARTH BORES A HOLE THROUGH THE TAIL OF HALLEY'S COMET
May 18, 1910 Will Be the Biggest Day in Astronomical History, When for the First Time the Coming Celestial Stranger's Eccentric Orbit Will Cause Its Meteoric Appendage to Fan the Surface of the Globe. All Scientists Admit There Will Be a Collision, and Camille Fammarion Says There May Be Disaster, but the Astronomers at Yerkes Observatory Tell The Sunday Tribune Readers That No Serious Harm Can Come to the Inhabitants of This Planet.
MAY 18, 1910.
Look it up on your calendar and when found, make a note of this date. On that day this whole world is going to do something that it probably never did before and probably will never do again. It is going to give the lie in most emphatic and convincing fashion to the adage that there is nothing new under the sun. On May 18, 1910, this planet earth is going to pass through the 15,000,000 miles long tail of Halley's justly celebrated and popular comet at the same time the comet crosses the face of the sun. In other words, on that date the earth, Halley's comet, and the sun will all three be lined up in a row in the order named: and this is something that the chances are about 10,000,000 to 1 never can happen again. Even the sun itself, getting along in years as it is, probably never before had the chance to see the comet directly between the earth and itself. It is an astronomical coincident unparalleled in the history of star hunting. Astronomers all over the world are excited about it.
No one else need be excited. Nobody is going to get hurt. In spite of the widely published prediction of a certain class of astronomers. Halley's comet is not going to destroy the earth. It is not even going to interfere with its career in the least. The staff of Yerkes observatory stands sponsor for this assurance.
Earth Positively in No Danger.
"At its best," assures Prof. E. E. Barnard of the staff of Yerkes observatory at Williams Bay, "the comet's tail will be but an interesting phenomenon. There probably will be an illumination of the evening sky. But probably nothing more. We will be 15,000,000 miles away from the comet. Positively, there is no danger to this planet."
"At its worst," supplements Prof. E. B. Frost, the observatory director, "there will be a meteor shower. But even this will mean no danger to our planet. The 'predictions' of some scientists who profess to see Halley's comet wiping out the earth on May 18 are not based on common sense and knowledge. The circumstance of earth passing through the comet's tail while the comet is between it and the sun is a startling one; but let it be published far and wide; there positively is no danger of destruction of our world."
With these assurances in its mind the public may go about its business without a second's worry about the earth lasting later than May 18. It is going to last. It will be doing business on the morning of May 19 just the same as it was on the 17th. It may be richer by a few choice meteors switched off the comet's tail, but that isn't a serious matter. There have been meteor showers before and the globe still whirls.
Camille Flammarion and other people who publicly have debated the question of a grand terrestrial knockout May 18 have alarmed the public unnecessarily. Although the average busy American citizen has refused to get excited over the predicted prospect of not having any world to live on after that date, in many sections of Europe these wild prophecies have had a dire effect. In fact, Halley's comet has been as effective in stirring up and governing the actions of many Europeans of the ignorant class as would an earthquake or other actual calamity.
Flammarion's Prophecy Alarms Europe.
Flammarion's first prophecy came in January, when he predicted that the comet would put an end to this sphere around the 15th of March. The news spread like wildfire and actually upset the continent for weeks. The effect of this prophecy, coming over the distinguished name of Flammarion, played havoc with the carefully ordered lives of the peasants of France and Germany. Thousands of them actually stopped work and refused to plan for the future. The world was coming to an end in March; what was the use of planning beyond then?
In Germany a town councilor of Cologne, a man of wealth and position, refused to vote for a proposed improvement in the city's water works because, he said, since the world was going to be destroyed in a month or two, there was no use in spending money foolishly. In Silesia the alarmed peasants drew all their savings out of banks and spent the money prodigally, determined to have as good a time as they could in the few months left. In Baden farmers refused to sow their fields because they were convinced that that the comet would destroy the earth before the crops could ripen. So serious did the matter become that the government was forced to take a hand and print and circulate thousands of letters showing that fears about the comet were all illusionary.
In the southern part of this country, among the colored people, the news of this prediction also began to circulate. The superstitious darkness immediately began to see signs and omens, refused to work, and began to loaf and pray their time away, awaiting for the fatal day in March. Later Flammarion changed the date of his prophecy to May 18. Then, said, he would occur the phenomenon of earth passing through the comet's tail, and the tail, being composed of poisonous gases, would destroy practically all animal and plant life on this planet. But, while it is true the earth will pass through this renowned tail on the date mentioned and that there certainly is poisonous gas in the tail, there will be no danger to life or planet.
Gas Bogy Causes Needless Alarm
"A pint of poisonous gas distributed over two cubic miles of earth's atmosphere would not harm a fly," says Prof. Frost, speaking of this feature of the collision. "That probably is about the proportion in which earth will be visited by the gas from this comet's tail. Of course, exact calculations in such events are impossible, but such as we are able to make with confidence may assure everybody that the poisonous gas bogy is not to be feared at all. Here in Chicago a possible illumination of the evening sky will be all that will tell us of the comet's passing. The gas will not reach us in noticeable quantities."
Therefore, again, quit worrying if you have been worrying. We neither will be smashed to pieces by solid matter nor poisoned by foul gases. The tail of the comet is not solid enough or dangerous enough in any way to hurt us in the least, and if we don't happen to look up at the sky on the big night we will not even notice that earth literally is passing through an experience altogether unique in its career.
Here is the situation: Halley's comet travels around the sun in an opposite direction from that followed by earth; thus they are at present rushing toward each other. Its orbit is on a different plane from that of earth, Mars, Mercury, Venus, and the other great planets. The orbit of these planets may be described as a plane, with the sun at its center. But Halley's comet, defying the rules that govern the planets, comes from its journey in the far away heavens and enters and goes through the planets' orbit at an angle.
Now, it happens that in this year of grace 1910 it passes through the planet orbit at a point that brings it directly between earth and the sun. There are countless millions of other laces that it could go through, countless other places that it has gone through in the past and will go through in the future. But this year it happens to have picked out for its dive through the planet orbit the single spot of all that could bring about the remarkable juxtaposition of the sun, comet, and earth. And that is why May 18 will be an altogether unique day in the history of this world...
Phenomenon as Seen Around Chicago.
At 8 o'clock in the evening it is expected the phenomenon first will make itself apparent around Chicago. At that hour the observatory at Williams Bay first expects to begin its observations. The comet's tail is so large that it will fill the whole evening sky, and if its length is what it is estimated to be at that date - 15,000,000 miles - it should provide an illumination that would be apparent to anybody who takes the trouble to look up. As the comet goes swishing on its way through space its tail will swing outward from the sun and, as it were, sweep all around this world with its faint luminosity. If there should happen to be astronomers on the planet Venus, and they were equipped with telescopes equal to those used by earthly astronomers today, they would be able to study both the comet and its tail as it illuminates earth.
BUT - there will be no collision. There will be no destruction of life through the medium of poisonous gases. There will be no smashing from contact with a solid body. Old Mother Earth, gently bathed in the luminous tail of Halley's comet, will go on just as it has been going for some time, and Chicagoans and all other earth dwellers will get up in the morning and go to work just as if we hadn't been within 15,000,000 miles of anything during the night.
May 18, 1910. Look it up on your calendar and, when found, make a note of it. For when Halley's comet returns you probably won't be here to see if the phenomenon is repeated.
Chicago Daily Tribune
March 27, 1910
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