Comets can be traced back from the Greek word for hair, and this ancient culture called them that as to them it looked like a star but with hair flowing behind. For thousands of years comets have been thought of as many things.
Friend or Foe?
In the early days people just did not know what comets were, some thought they were some supernatural power, and that they must be made from fire as they were so bright. The Romans actually considered the comet as some sort of curse, and even Nero executed all the heirs to the throne because of the sight of a comet.
These phobias continued up to fairly modern times, for example in 1910 Halley’s Comet set off widespread panic in cities across the United States. Citizens believed that the tail was poisonous and protected their houses by sealing up doors and windows. Unscrupulous tradesmen took advantage of the chaos and sold anti-comet pills, and protective umbrellas! Some people actually committed suicide believing that Halley’s Comet was a signal for the end of the world.
Good Luck Omens
Through the ages many people believed that comets brought good luck, and that they carried angels across the heavens. The Chinese were the first to recognize comets, and recorded sightings as far back as 240B.C. Even the Bayeux Tapestry depicts an image of a comet (Halley’s) just before the great Battle of Hastings in 1066.
The End of Dinosaurs?
There is a popular theory that comets were responsible for killing off dinosaurs. It is true that sixty-five million years ago over 70% of dinosaurs were wiped out in a very short space of time. One explanation is that a giant comet over ten kilometers in size crashed into the Earth, and the displacement of huge amounts of rocks and earth killed off the dinosaurs.
Many books and films have depicted the end of the Earth at the hands of a huge comet crashing into our world. But research from NASA shows that no comet or asteroid is currently on a collision course with Earth. In fact they go further in their predictions saying that no object will hit Earth any time in the next few hundred years.
Myths & Facts
M – Comets come from outside the Solar System.
F – Comets are part of the Solar System.
M – Comets are made up of the same materials as asteroids.
F – Comets are mostly ice with some rock, asteroids are made up mostly of rock with some ice.
M – Comets always have a tail.
F – Comets have no tails when they are far away from the sun, they only develop their tails when nearing the Sun.
M – All comets are the same.
F – Comets can develop 1,2, or 3 tails and can differ greatly.
M – Pluto is the furthest away object in our Solar System.
F – Beyond Pluto is the Kuiper Belt, which is a group of icy objects
The truths and myths about comets help to elevate the mystery of these great heavenly objects, for millennia they have challenged the greatest brains and scientists to what they actually were. And even today there are some doubters who do not believe scientific explanation.