Great Comet of 1843

According to this modern medal the comet that appeared in March 1843 caused many to belive end of the world has come. Reading newspapers of the time shows another side of the story.

When the public noticed something new in the sky a discussion began in the newspapers. In the March 14, 1843 issue of The New-York Daily Tribune a citation from the Providence Journal appeared. The original letter was signed by "C. Brown University". The author gave a longer description of observation of this heavenly visitor, then gave detailed comparison to several periodical and historical comets. Later he added: "Time was when the appearance of so strange a visitor, flaming through the firmament, spread universal terror and consternation. That time, we hope has, in a great measure, passed away to return no more. But the world is evidently not yet fully purged of the old leaven of ignorance and superstition. There would seem to be some among us who are incorrigibly bent upon making reason and common sense subordinate to the most childish fears, and the most whimsical and proposterous fancies. Predicted martyrdom at the tail of a comet would scarce surpass their credulity. - Whether there is any cure for such ignorance and fears we know not. It may be well, however, for such to consider that comets are a part of the creation which God made. They pursue their respective and appointed courses with as much order and harmony, in respect to the great laws of planetary motion, as do the members of our own little system. They are, so to say, messengers, from one system to another; and come back to us from the long travel of a thousand years, to announce to us that harmony and order pervade the universe.".

The obverse of this medal has nothing to do with the comet, it show another important event of the year 1843. But this is the only medal, that can be connected with the hairy star. So let's turn back to the newspapers.

comet 1843 reversecomet 1843 obverse

Even poems were published as in the Geneva Courier, April 11, 1843 Tuesday issue. The authors cited one from the Albany Argus

TO THE COMET

 

Say, thou mysterious stranger of the sky,
     On whom this moment myriad eyes are bent
With fixed but unavailing scrutiny,
    What is thy errand? Hath it dire portent?
Now while the stars before thy glare turn pale;
                                     Tell us thy tale

Thou bid'st the student leave his books; the crowd
    Who throng the city's streets in silence pause -
The hardy sailor, though the winds are loud,
    Forgets his duty – thy attraction draws
Alike, this cloudless night, to heaven's broad page,
                                    Savage and sage.

The foiled Astronomer throws by his glass,
    Thou hast defied his lore, his searching skill
May see heaven's myriad hosts in order pass
    On their appointed paths; a hidden will
He may not scan, gives thee thy mighty force,
                                    And marks thy course.

What art thou? Art a servant made to bear
    Fuel to feed the Sun's exhausted fires;
And harmless hurry through the troubled air
    Upon thy mission? Baffled thought expires
In vain and vague desire, to comprehend
                                    Thy aim and end.

If this thy duty, thou art doubtless bound,
    Thy work accomplished, to a distant bourne,
Thy far Aphelion; ages may roll round
    Ere thou wilt gleam on earth in thy return,
And not of all these hosts of wondering men
                                    One see thee then.

Then all the wild predictions of crazed seers,
    By Time, Truth's Emerald, shall be tested well,
And through old record men's unfounded fears,
    Made giants by their ignorance, shall tell
That in this age false prophets were believed,
                                    And fools deceived.

Thou mayest not return till from thy soul
    The clouds of doubt and error are dispelled-
As from the earth the sun-touched shadow roll-
    The blessed time the Patmian seer beheld-
When dazzling light from the Eternal throne
                                    Made all things known.

The public was greatly excited and in the Wednesday Morning March 15, 1843 issue of The New-York Daily Tribune several readers' letters were published on the front page. The editor started with the following remarks: "We have received a great number of communications concerning the Comet, for which we have not room. One of the writers suggests that the "strange light" is neither a Comet not a zodiacal light - but the reflection of the Sun from the snow on the tops of the Rocky Mountains!" Latter one reader signed by "G" deny that it would be a zodiacal light by noticing that: The zodiacal light, according to Biot, " is always directed in the plane of the solar equator, which is nearly coincident with that of the ecliptic;" and "its name is derived from a zone called the zodiac, extending eight degrees on each side of the ecliptic, within which zone the luminous appearance in question is always comprehended". Later he continued: "The "strange light" under discussion, instead of being comprehended within the zodiac, on Saturday evening, touched with the northern side of the eastern extremity the star Gamma Eridani, which is fourteen degrees south of the equator, while the southern limit of the zodiac at the corresponding point is twelve degrees north of the equator, thus making the " strange light" twenty six degrees south of the limit within which the zodiacal light is " always comprehended."

Another reader M. F. Maury. Lieut. U. S. Navy went further and gave some historical background of the comet: "Comparing my own observations with the accounts which have already reached us from different parts of the country, there appears now to be but little doubt but that this is the tail of a Comet, and that the head itself has been seen at mid-day in the East with the naked eye; if so, for length of tail and magnitude of nebula, it may be classed among the most remarkable that have ever appeared. In the year 43, B. C., historians tell us of a hairy star that was seen by day light. In the year A. D. 1402, two Comets were seen in broad day, and the tail of one of them at noon. Tycho Brahe discovered a Comet by day light in 1577. The Comet of 1744 could be seen in the day time without the aid of glasses. Its tail, though not so long as this, was curved, and formed an arc of 90 degrees; though, for a part of the time, it had several tails, the length of which varied from 30 degrees to 40 degrees."

Arago "the great French Astronomer" THE COMET! titled book were published again at 12.5 cents price, and advertised in March 18, 1843 issue of The New-York Daily Tribune and some other issues.Advertisement of Arago's book

And some facts finally from the Wikipedia. The Great Comet of 1843 formally designated C/1843 D1 and 1843 I, was a long-period comet which became very bright in March 1843 (it is also known as the Great March Comet). It was discovered on February 5, 1843 and rapidly brightened to become a great comet. It was a member of the Kreutz Sungrazers, a family of comets resulting from the breakup of a parent comet (X/1106 C1) into multiple fragments in about 1106. These comets pass extremely close to the surface of the Sun—within a few solar radii—and often become very bright as a result.

Estimates for the orbital period of the comet have varied from 512 ± 105 years (Kreutz's classical work from 1901), 654 ± 103 years (Chodas2008 unforced solution), 688 years (JPL Horizons barycentric epoch 1852 solution), and 742 years (Chodas2008 forced solution based on a presumed identity with X/1106 C1). But the comet was only observed over a period of 45 days from March 5 to April 19, and the uncertainties mean it likely has an orbital period of 600 to 800 years.