The Transit and Tail of Halley's Comet


    THE question as to whether the earth passed through the tail of Halley's comet is discussed, from the point of view of the Helwan observations, by Mr. Knox Shaw in No. 4418 of the Astronomische Nachrichiten (p. 31). On May 18, at 1311. G.M.T., the tail was seen to stretch as far as α Equueli, where it was 2° broad, although 8° broad where it involved y Pegasi. At 13h. on May 19 there was no sign of the tail in the west, but it was traced to 9 Aquike, where it merged with the Milky Way. The form was still tapering, and was 15° broad at a Pegasi. Similar observations followed on May 20, when still no tail was seen in the evening; but at 14h. it was traced to the Milky Way, and was about 10° broad in Pegasus. At 6h., G.M.T., on May 21 the tail was visible for a distance of 20°, but none could be seen at dawn. The narrowness of the tail (8°) on May 18 and the increased breadth next morning suggest that it was bent back in the orbit, and probably did not begin to sweep past the earth before 12h. on May 20. At this time the earth was some four million miles south of the comet's orbit plane, and consequently the tail probably passed well to the north of the earth, for the Helwan observations, during May, suggest that it was not nearly wide enough to envelop the earth at that distance. They also show that its length was well over twenty million miles, and would therefore have enveloped the earth had the planes coincided. No sign of the comet's transit of the sun's disc was observed, although observations were made with the 4-inch Cooke equatorial. Dr. Meyermann also reports that, at Tsingtau, no trace of the comet was seen during the transit, nor were any extraordinary magnetic or meteorological effects recorded by the respective instruments.

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    The Transit and Tail of Halley's Comet . Nature 83, 501–502 (1910).

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