Pons-Winnecke comet visit 1927
OUR VISITING COMET
CLOSER TO THE EARTH than any comet except one is known to have come before, the Pons-Winnecke comet was only 3,500,000 miles away from us on June 27, about fourteen and a half times as far as the moon, and far closer than any other astronomical body ordinarily comes. But despite this neighborly visit, says Science Service’s Daily Science News Bulletin (Washington), no empires fell because of its proximity, and no kings passed away. In fact, no signs at all appeared in the sky, for it is quite doubtful if the comet was visible to the unaided eye, and even if visible, it was a mere faint patch of light, quite different from the usual conception of a comet, for in the ten previous visits on which it has been observed by astronomers, it has never shown any trace of a tail. We read further:
“The mere fact that it is coming so close makes it interesting to the astronomical profession, and for the next month or two it will be the cynosure of telescopes large and small. Only once, so far as astronomers know, has a comet come anywhere near as close as Pons-Winnecke. That was in 1770, when Lexell’s comet approached to a mere stone’s throw of 1,400,000 miles from the earth. Probably within a few years after that, many people thought that it had been a warning of the American Revolution, for until comparatively recent times superstition about comets has been rampant. They were supposed to be the heralds of wars and conquests.
“Halley’s comet, for instance, which visited the neighborhood of the earth last in 1910, was supposed to foretell the Norman Conquest when it came in 1066. On the famous Bayeux Tapestry the comet is depicted as King Harold views it in alarm, possibly with some fear of the future work of William the Conqueror, which cost him his throne. And then, as Halley’s comet appeared again in 1910, these early historians would probably have supposed that it foretold the Great War.
“Halley’s comet is one of respectable size, even tho it is by no means the biggest. Pons-Winnecke, however, is rather a second-rate comet, as far as size is concerned. It is a periodic comet, and returns once in a little over six years to the neighborhood of the earth. A French astronomer at Marseilles, named Pons, discovered it in 1819, but it was not found on the next few visits. In 1858, however, a German astronomer, at the University of Bonn, Winnecke by name, discovered a comet. After a few observations of his comet had been made, it was found that it was the long-lost Pons comet, and in honor of his having rediscovered it, the German’s name was attached, making it the Pons-Winnecke comet.
Source: The Literary Digest for July 16, 1927