Title

An Ancient Greek Sighting of Halley's Comet?

Keywords

Halley's Comet, Ancient Greeks, Aristotle, Anaxagoras

Abstract

The regularity of the orbits of comet Halley has made possible the determination of its visits backwards in time through the Middle Ages to antiquity. Computer models have provided correlations between reports of comets back to the second and third centuries BC and astronomical records of the Babylonians and Chinese. So far the earliest probable sighting is the return of 240 BC, confirmed by Chinese observers. Thus far ancient Greek records, which do not contain systematic diaries of heavenly events, have not been considered in this connection. One famous event recorded by Greek philosophers and historians is the fall of a meteor in northern Greece in 467/6 BC. At the time of the meteor, a comet was visible. This coincides with the retrodicted appearance of comet Halley in the summer of 466 BC. Using computer models we examine the probable path of comet Halley on that return and find it is consistent with reports about features of the observed comet. The philosopher and scientist Anaxagoras is said to have predicted the fall of the meteor. One ancient source corrects this confusion and allows us to see how the Greeks combined theory and observation in this case.

Original Publication Citation

(With Eric Hintz) “An Ancient Greek Sighting of Halley’s Comet?” Journal of Cosmology 9 (2010): 2130-2136.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date

2010-7

Publisher

Journal of Cosmology

Language

English

College

Humanities

Department

Philosophy

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor

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