The term comet—which signifies literally a hairy star—may be applied to all bodies that revolve about the sun in very eccentric orbits. The sudden appearance, vast dimensions, and extraordinary aspect of these celestial wanderers, together with their rapid and continually varying motions, have never failed to excite the attention and wonder of all observers.
Nor is it surprising that in former times, when the nature of their orbits was wholly unknown, they should have been looked upon as omens of impending evil, or messengers of an angry Deity. Even now, although modern science has reduced their motions to the domain of law, determined approximately their orbits, and assigned in a number of instances their periods, the interest awakened by their appearance is in some respects still unabated.
The special points of dissimilarity between planets and comets are the following:—The former are dense, and, so far as we know, solid bodies; the latter are many thousand times rarer than the earth's atmosphere. The planets all move from west to east; many comets revolve in the opposite direction. The planetary orbits are but slightly inclined to the plane of the ecliptic; those of comets may have any inclination whatever. The planets are observed in all parts of their orbits; comets, only in those parts nearest the sun.
The larger comets are attended by a tail, or train of varying dimensions, extending generally in a direction opposite to that of the sun. The more condensed part, from which the tail proceeds, is called the nucleus; and the nebulous envelope immediately surrounding the nucleus is sometimes termed the coma.
|2. 1819 IV||4.81|
|3. De Vico's||5.02|
|4. Pigott's (1783)||5.28|
|5. 1867 II||5.29|
|6. 1743 I||5.32|
|7. 1766 II||5.47|
|8. 1819 III||5.55|
|1. Peters' (1846 VI.)||9.45|
|2. Tuttle's (1858 I.)||10.42|
|1. 1867 I||19.28|
|2. November meteors||19.65|
|3. 1866 I||19.92|
|1. Westphal's (1852 IV.)||31.97|
|2. Pons' (1812)||33.41|
|3. Olbers' (1815)||34.05|
|4. De Vico's (1846 IV.)||34.35|
|5. Brorsen's (1847 V.)||35.07|
References: Kirkwood, D. "The Comets"