You can now buy the recently released book, Fall of a Thousand Suns: How Near Misses and Comet Impacts affected the Religious Beliefs of our Ancestors. It is available through iBooks and Amazon.


This website only lists information on modern-day comets and meteor showers. The book, however, thoroughly investigates how specific ancient impacts and near misses changed religious beliefs around the world.

Comet Biela

Comet Biela


Discovery of Comet Biela (3P/Biela)

Comet Biela was first observed and recorded on March 8, 1772 by Jacques Leibax Montaigne. During this orbit, it was also spotted by Charles Messier. Its closest approach to Earth was on March 13, 1772 at a distance of 0.62 AU.


In 1805, the comet was observed and recorded by Jean-Louis Pons, but it was not recognized as the same comet. Due to similarities in their orbital paths, several astronomers suspected the 1772 and 1805 comets were actually a single comet. Carl Friedrich Gauss even calculated that the first perihelion of this comet on January 2, 1806. He also believed its periodic orbit was 4.74 years. In 1805, the apparent magnitude of the comet was between 4 and 5.


Wilhelm Von Biela

Baron Wilhelm von Biela

(1782– 1856)

Like Halley's Comet (1P/Halley) and Comet Encke (2P/Encke), Comet Biela (3P/Biela) was not named after its discoverer. Instead this comet was named after Wilhelm von Biela who observed the comet for 72 days beginning on February 27, 1826. These observations allowed Biela to determine the orbit of the comet and link the orbit to previous observations of the comet in 1805 and 1772. It was only the third comet in history to have its periodic orbit definitively determined.


Biela was stationed in Italy at the time, a former-captain in the Austrian army. How did a military man become such a devout astronomer? Biela was wounded in battle in 1813. In 1815, he began to study astronomy under Marin Alois David. He was appointed as the commandant of Rovigo in Italy and discovered three comets during his life. The two other discoveries came in 1823 and 1831. These other two comets were long-period comets from the Oort Cloud and, as a result, their orbit was not able to be determined. During his 74 years on this planet, Biela published a number of astronomical papers and even theorized that comets occasionally died in the Sun. As Solar and Heliospheric Observatory proves, multiple times a year, Biela's theory was correct.


He passed away in beautiful Venice, Italy on February 18, 1856.







The Fragmentation of Comet Biela

BIela's Comet

Drawing of Comet Biela's (3D/Biela) fragmentation in 1852. Drawing published in Bilderatlas der Sternenwelt (1888).

Biela's Comet was "recovered" in 1832, 1846 and 1852. In 1852, Comet Biela's (3P/Biela) nucleus was observed fragmenting into two pieces. After 1852, it was never seen again. It is widely considered "lost" or destroyed. Ironically, Wilhelm von Biela may have outlived the comet he discovered.


There have been several attempts to identify fragments of the parent object, which still survive in the modern day. German astronomer Karl Ristenpart's efforts are particularly noteworthy. Ristenpart attempted to link Comet Perrine-Mrkos (18D/Perrine-Mrkos) to Biela, a theory which was discredited. Comet Perrine-Mrkos has since been lost as well. Comet NEAT (207P/NEAT) was discovered in 2001 by the NEAT asteroid survey. It also had an orbit similar to Biela. Like 18D/Perrine-Mrkos it was initially thought to be a remnant of Comet Biela.










Meteor Showers associated with Comet Biela / Biela's Comet

Comet Biela was often considered the source of meteor impacts. A theory first proposed by Ignatius Donnelly in 1883 suggests that the Chicago Fire and Peshtigo Fire were caused by Comet Biela. Astronomers have discounted the theory.