Looking Up: Can You Hear Me Now?

Oct 29, 2018

It appears to be coming down fast but it's miles above you. Comet Hale-Bopp, as viewed in April 1997.
Credit E. Kolmhofer, H. Raab; Johannes-Kepler-Observatory, Linz, Austria (http://www.sternwarte.at) / wikipedia

This week on Looking Up Bruce Bookout inspires us with comet 'tales' from various cultures.

Comets are very remarkable objects in the night sky. Most celestial bodies travel across the skies at regular, predictable intervals; comets' movements have always seemed very erratic and unpredictable. Ancient people in many cultures believed that the gods dictated their motions and were sending them as a message.

Comets have inspired dread, fear, and awe in many different cultures and societies around the world and throughout time. They have been branded "the Harbingers of Doom". They have been regarded both as omens of disaster and messengers of the gods.

So, what were the gods trying to say? To some cultures a comet appears as the head of a sorrowful woman, with long flowing hair, indicating the gods were displeased. Others saw the elongated comet as a fiery sword blazing across the night sky, a traditional sign of war and death; meaning that the wrath of the Gods would soon follow. Such beliefs struck fear into those who saw comets dart across the sky.

Ancient legends added to the terrible dread of these celestial wanderers. From the Babylonian "Epic of Gilgamesh," the Mongolian “Yakut” and including the Norse “Ragnarok”, stories associating comets with such terrible imagery are at the core of many cultures and fuel a fear of comet sightings throughout history.

If you’d like to take a closer look at a comet, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.