comets-book

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.

Comets

 
 
what is a comet?    

Although comets have been in the skies for 4.6 billion years, including the blip of time we know as human history, the first definitive mention of comets doesn't come until the thirteenth century BCE. As far as we know, only then did Chinese astronomers begin to track and record the movement of comets, stripping them of their religious significance as gods or supernatural monsters.

 
Non Periodic Comets    

A newly discovered comet is assigned a name by The International Astronomical Union. For example, Comet ISON was named C/2012 S1 after its discovery on September 24, 2012. Our list of non-perioidc comets is sortable by name, discovery date, and next perihelion.

 
List of Periodic Comets    

Once a comet's orbital “P”eriod has been confirmed by multiple returns to the inner solar system, it is renamed and assigned a periodic number (i.e. 1P/Halley, 2P/Encke…314P/Hill).  As of December 14, 2014 only 314 comets had there orbital “P”eriod definitively determined. Our list of periodic comets is sortable by name, discovery date, next perihelion, orbital period, and diameter.

 

 

 

 

 

Between one hundred billion and two trillion comets are thought to exist in our solar system. As of December 14, 2014, only 3,827 comets have been observed and named. Some are listed below in order of perihelion.

 
Comet Siding Spring    

There is currently a 1 and 120,000 chance that Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) will hit Mars on October 19, 2014. Based on Leonid Elenin's recent observations, Comet Siding Spring will pass 0.000276 AU (41,300 km, 25,700 miles) from the surface of Mars. For comparison, the average distance between the Earth and Moon is .00257 AU (384,400 km, 238,900 miles).

 
Comet Finlay    

On October 27, 2060 Comet Finlay will pass 0.048 AU from Earth (JPL, 2014). That's the equivalent of 4,500,000 miles or 7,200,000 kilometers. For reference, the average distance between Earth and the Moon is 0.002 AU.

 
SOHO Comets    

Dozens of tiny comets, known as sungrazers or sunskirters, will tightly orbit the Sun in 2014, but will probably only be visible from space observatories like SOHO, LASCO and STEREO (A and B). The general public can comb through movies and images captured by SOHO, attempting to discover the next comet. It's not as impossible as it sounds. A comet is discovered every three days on average using images from SOHO.

 

 
Comet Pons-Winnecke    
According to the Minor Planet Center, on June 26, 1927 Pons-Winnecke passed .0394 AU from Earth. That’s a little more than fifteen times the average distance between Earth and the Moon.
 
Comet d'Arrest    
This comet was spotted and recorded by Heinrich Ludwig d' Arrest in Leipzig, Germany on June 28, 1851. It was the sixth comet to have its periodic orbit determined.
 
Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko    
In November 2014, The European Space Agency plans to release a lander, called Philae, from its Rosetta Spacecraft. The lander will attach to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It will study the comet before, during, and after its closet approach to the Sun on August 13, 2015.
 
Comet Encke    
Comet Encke (2P/Encke) orbits our Sun once every 3.3 years, which is the quickest known orbit of any comet. Meteor showers, known as the Taurids and Beta Taurids, are thought to be the remains of the dust trail left by Comet Encke. There are even theories that the Tunguska explosion in 1908 was created by a small piece of Comet Encke.
 
Comet Wirtanen    
According to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, on December 16, 2018, Comet Wirtanen will pass 0.0777 AU (7,220,000 miles, 11,620,000 kilometers) from Earth. For reference the average distance between the Moon and Earth is .0024 AU. Don Yeomans and Paul Chodas, of JPL, have identified Comet Wirtanen as one of the comets to pass closest to Earth between 2000 and 2200 CE.
 
Comet 209P / Linear    
Russian astronomer, Mikhail Maslov, believed Earth would pass through the tail of Comet 209P / LINEAR between 7:00 and 8:00 UT on May 24, 2014. He also believed that it could result in a meteor storm producing between 100 and 400 meteors an hour, and that viewing conditions would be particular good in Canada and the United States. Unfortunately, it disappointed.
 
Comet Neujmin 2    

On February 24, 1916, George van Biesbroeck (Yerkes Observatory) spotted a comet with an apparent magnitude of 11. It was a Jupiter-Family comet with an orbit of 5.43 years. This comet has not been observed since its apparition in 1927. Due to its disappearance, it's known as 25D / Nuejmin 2, meaning it's a "lost" comet.

 
Comet 289P / Blanpain    
On November 28, 1819 Jean-Jacques Blanpain discovered a comet. It was designated C / 1819 W1. After this apparition the comet was "lost" and remained unobserved for nearly 200 years. In 2005, a recently discovered asteroid matched the orbital path and period of C/1819 W1. It also had a faint coma, meaning it probably was an nearly-exhausted comet. The object was officially renamed Comet 289P / Blanpain in July of 2013.
 
Comet Holmes    
Over the course of 42 hours in October of 2007, Comet Holmes (17P/Holmes) became a half million times brighter on its way to becoming the largest object in the solar system - larger than the Sun, or Brad Pitt's ego, if only for a brief time.
 
Comet Brooks 2    
The fragmentation of Comet Brooks 2 is believed to have been caused by a close pass to Jupiter in 1886, when it passed .001 AU from Jupiter. The gravity of the planet tore the comet into fragments. The fragmented comet was observed for the first time, in recorded history, three years later on July 7, 1889.
 
Comet Faye    
Comet Faye (4P/Faye) was discovered in 1844 by a French astronomer. It was the first periodic comet to be named after its discoverer and not the individual who determined its orbit.
 
Halley's Comet    

Edmond Halley used Newtonian physics to predict that a comet appearing in 1531, 1607 and 1682 would return in 1759. Halley died in 1742, so he didn’t live to see the return of his comet. When the comet did return on Christmas Eve in 1758, it became known as Halley’s Comet (1P/Halley). Halley's feat marked the first time in history that a comet returned to the inner solar system as predicted.

 

 
Comet Swift-Tuttle    

When the Swift-Tuttle Comet (109P/Swift-Tuttle) was spotted in 1862, it had an apparent magnitude of 2 and a tail spanning thirty degrees of the night sky. The nucleus of Swift-Tuttle is 17 miles (27 km) in diameter. It's nearly triple the diameter of object that slammed into the Yucatan 65,000,000 years ago and caused one of the largest extinction events in history.

 

 
Comet Lovejoy    

In December of 2011, Comet Lovejoy (C/2011 W3) stunned scientists by traveling through the Sun's corona and survived an estimated 2,200,000° F (1,200,000° C).

 
Comet Ikeya-Seki    
In 1965, Comet Ikeya-Seki (C/1965 S1) reached an apparent magnitude of -10. It could easily be seen in the daytime sky and was the brightest comet since 1882 CE.
 
Comet Hale-Bopp    
After its discovery in 1995 by two amateurs, Comet Hale-Bopp (C/1995 O1) became one of the most spectacular naked eye comets in history. It remains the largest comet ever observed, with a nucleus measuring 37± 12 miles (60±20 km) in diameter.
 
Comet Lemmon    
The Mt. Lemmon Survey (MLSS) has discovered more Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) than any telescope on Earth. MLSS has also discovered comets. On March 23, 2012 images from MLSS captured a 20.7 magnitude comet (C/2012 F6).
 
Comet LINEAR    

Comet LINEAR could refer to any one of the hundreds of comets discovered by Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) at MIT. It is one of the few systems in the world, which is automated. A telescope and computers collect, analyze and sort data non-stop. Since its inception, LINEAR has detected 2,423 near earth objects including 279 comets. The comet pictured broke into 200 pieces in the summer of 2000.

 

 
Comet NEAT    
The comet pictured to the left (C/2002 V1) orbits the Sun once every 37,000 years at 81° compared to the ecliptic. It was discovered in 2002 by the Near Earth Asteroid Tracking (NEAT) program.
 
Comet Hyakutake    
On March 25th, 1996, Comet Hyakutake (C/1996 B2) passed .1 AU from Earth. Frighteningly, this comet had been discovered less than two months earlier by an amateur Japanese astronomer armed only with a pair of binoculars.
 
Eclipse Comet    
During a solar eclipse in 1948 a comet with an apparent magnitude of -2 was spotted near the Sun. The comet became infamously known as the "Eclipse Comet". It was formally designated C/1948 V1.
 
Comet McNaught    
If someone were to say, "Comet McNaught", they could be referring to any of the over fifty comets discovered by astronomer and comet-hunter Robert McNaught. One discovery, C/2006 P1, became one of the most beautiful naked eye comets in recorded history.
 
Comet PANSTARRS    
Comet PANSTARRS could refer to any one of the hundreds of comets discovered by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System atop Haleakala in Maui. One of its discoveries (C/2011 L4) was a naked-eye comet visible in both the southern and northern hemisphere after its perihelion on March 10, 2013.
 
Comet West    
In 1976, Comet West (C/1975 V1) reached an apparent magnitude of –3 during its closest approach to the Sun. It was brighter than Venus in the morning sky.
 
Comet ISON    

On September 24, 2012 it was announced that we had a 2 mile (3 km) wide visitor in our solar system between Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Cancer. Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) had the potential to be as bright as a full moon in early December of 2013...if it could survive perihelion on November 28, 2013. Unfortunately it did not. The vast majority of the comet's nucleus evaporated in the Sun's corona.

 

 
Comet Biela    
In 1852, Comet Biela's (3P/Biela) nucleus was observed fragmenting into two pieces. It has not been seen since and is widely considered "lost" or destroyed. Ironically, its discoverer may have outlived the comet he discovered. In the 19th century, Biela was the suspected parent of several meteorite impacts. There were even suggestions that it caused the Great Chicago Fire.
 
Comet Brorsen    
Theodor Brorsen made worldwide news with this discovery in 1846. In the land before television and the internet, newspapers carried the story around the world. The fifth comet to ever have its periodic orbit determined became known as Comet Brorsen (5P/Brorsen).
 
Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9    
Unlike most comets, which orbit around the Sun, Shoemaker-Levy 9 (D/1993 F2) was orbiting around Jupiter when it was first spotted in 1993.  Astrophysicists ran some calculations and believed that the fragments, all twenty-one of them, would slam into Jupiter in July of 1994. They weren’t disappointed.
 
Comet SWAN    
Comet Lovejoy may have survived a death-defying close call with the Sun in early 2012, but, months later, NASA observed the death of Comet SWAN as it plunged into the Sun and ended its multi-billion year existence.
 
Brightest Comets in History    
This page is an attempt to create a list of the brightest comets in known history.