Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Mapping Medieval Comet Sightings

Medieval Comet Sightings is a story map exploring how comet sightings were recorded by medieval historians and used to explain subsequent unfortunate events. The map uses research by Dr Marilina Cesario which combines medieval history with astrophysics to explore how comets were understood in the Medieval period.

Medieval historians often used the appearance of a comet (in hindsight) as a portentous sign of some calamitous event. The map shows some of the locations where medieval historians reported comet sightings, sightings which they believe foreshadowed subsequent events. For example the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that a comet in 676 anticipated the end of Bishop Wilfred's control of Northumbria.

One of the most significant events in British history is the Norman Conquest in 1066. Halley's comet is recorded in the famous Bayeux Tapestry. It's appearance in 1066 was possibly very bad luck for the English. Although strangely the comet appears to have had the completely opposite effect on the luck of the Normans, who went on to conquer Harold at the Battle of Hastings and subsequently the whole of England.

If you are interested in how comets are viewed and recorded in the 21st Century then you might want to visit the University of Maryland's Comet Wirtanen Observing Campaign. Comet 46P / Wirtenen is currently visible from Earth. The Comet Wirtanen Observing Campaign is attempting to provide a clearinghouse for observations of the comet.

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