The Greatest Comets of Ancient Times
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Ancient people must have been fascinated, and maybe even terrified, by the appearance of bright comets in the sky, and it is not surprising that references to these objects turn up from time to time in the most ancient of writings. However, these very early accounts are often vague and not infrequently mixed with legend and fable. As evidence that people of ancient times took note of comets, they are important, but as accounts of individual comets themselves, these old stories yield little useful data.
The first comet to have been reliably recorded in more than one historical text is the one observed by the Chinese in the year 613 B.C. It was described as a “broom star” and said to have entered the Pei-Tou (i.e., the Big Dipper or Ursa Major) sometime during the period of August 4 to September 2, as we would reckon months. Nothing is specifically said about its appearance, and there is no indication that it became especially brilliant.
In fact, the first comet that we can include with...