1840 Chart of the Course of the Comet of 1832 (Biela's Comet)

Der Komet vom Jahre 1832. - Main View

1840 Chart of the Course of the Comet of 1832 (Biela's Comet)


The comet craze of 1832.


Der Komet vom Jahre 1832.
  1840 (undated)     8 x 9.5 in (20.32 x 24.13 cm)


Here is a c. 1840 German-language celestial chart displaying the course of the Comet of 1832 (Biela's Comet). The comet briefly caused a mass panic in October 1832, when it was incorrectly believed to be on a collision course with the Earth.
A Closer Look
The close approach of Biela's Comet to Earth's orbit in October 1832 caused a brief media sensation and mass hysteria, revealing the improved scientific knowledge of the times but also the limits of that knowledge, or at least its understanding among the public.

Astronomers had sighted the comet in 1772 and 1805, leading to failed attempts to define its orbit, until a German-Austrian army officer named Wilhelm von Biela spotted the comet on its perihelion approach in 1826 and calculated its orbit.

Thus, the appearance of the comet in 1832 was expected, but was misconstrued by some as an imminent threat to Earth, when in fact the Earth would not intersect the comet's orbit until a month after it had passed by (October 28 versus November 30, as indicated here). Not for the last time, leading astronomers of the day had to reassure the public that there was no immediate threat of a collision. In subsequent years, astronomers noticed that the comet had broken in two, and then into many pieces, resulting in an especially impressive meteor shower on November 27, 1872.

This chart traces the course of the comet in the months and years prior to its close approach of Earth, and includes well-known constellations, Polaris (the North Star), cardinal directions, and other symbols to orient the viewer.
Publication History and Census
Though cataloged in the holdings of five institutions in North America and Europe, the publication information and provenance of this celestial map are unknown. It was likely published in the years immediately following the comet's sighting, and from the offsetting of ink from an opposite page looks to have been included in a bound work such as an atlas.


Very good. Minor imperfections in the margins. Offsetting from opposite page.


OCLC 556944482.