Some researchers over at BYU have redefined the first documented sighting of Halley’s Comet at 466 BC as opposed to approximately 200 years earlier as previously thought.
Chinese astronomers first described the comet in 240 BC, but in ancient Greece in 466-467 BC Greek authors described a meteor the size of a wagon that crashed into the Hellespont region of northern Greece during daylight hours, frightening the population and creating a tourist attraction that lasted five centuries. The ancient authors describe a comet in the sky at the time.
Researchers Daniel Graham, a philosopher, and Eric Hintz, an astronomer, from Brigham Young University at Provo in Utah, compared their model of the comet’s likely path with the texts describing the meteor crash. Halley’s comet would have been visible for 82 days maximum, depending on atmospheric conditions at the time, while the ancient texts say the comet was visible for 75 days.
Every time I look up at the night sky, I think about the ancients looking up at the same stars. Just imagine 466 BC. Xerxes I is winding down his rule and the Greeks defeated the Persians at The Battle of the Eurymedon (don’t worry about the specific date, we’re going with 466 for the purposes of That’s What I Say!) and two different populations successfully revolted and instituted democracies in Syracuse, Sicily and the colony of Taras in Magna Graecia.
Like Mr. Clean, the light and space really puts a zap on my head.
It’s really cool how the visible universe can be used as a calendar. This study of Homer is an awesome intellectual exercise (try not to get too caught up in the fiction, just think of it as a fun thought puzzle).
OK, kids, try to remember all of this when the Orionids hit (I’m pretty sure you’ll forget by the time the comet reappears in 2061). Luckily for us, Halley’s Comet is the parent body to two meteor showers, the Eta Aquariids (April/May) and the Orionids, which appear in late October.