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Comet Quotes (43 quotes)

1066. … At that time, throughout all England, a portent such as men had never seen before was seen in the heavens. Some declared that the star was a comet, which some call “the long-haired star”: it first appeared on the eve of the festival of Letania Maior, that is on 24 April, and shone every night for a week.
In George Norman Garmonsway (ed., trans.), 'The Parker Chronicle', The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (1953), 195. This translation from the original Saxon, is a modern printing of an ancient anthology known as The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Manuscript copies were held at various English monasteries. These copies of the Chronicle include content first recorded in the late 9th century. The monasteries continued independently updating these annals. This quote comes from a copy once owned by Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury. Known as the Winchester (or Parker) Chronicle, it is the oldest surviving manuscript.
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1106. … In the first week of Lent, on the Friday, 16 February, a strange star appeared in the evening, and for a long time afterwards was seen shining for a while each evening. The star made its appearance in the south-west, and seemed to be small and dark, but the light that shone from it was very bright, and appeared like an enormous beam of light shining north-east; and one evening it seemed as if the beam were flashing in the opposite direction towards the star. Some said that they had seen other unknown stars about this time, but we cannot speak about these without reservation, because we did not ourselves see them.
In George Norman Garmonsway (ed., trans.), 'The Parker Chronicle', The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (1953), 240. This translation from the original Saxon, is a modern printing of an ancient anthology known as The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Manuscript copies were held at various English monasteries. These copies of the Chronicle include content first recorded in the late 9th century. This quote comes from the copy known as the Peterborough Chronicle (a.k.a. Laud manuscript).
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CALPURNIA: When beggars die there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.
CAESAR: Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I have yet heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
Julius Caesar (1599), II, ii.
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A comet is sublimated fire assimilated to the nature of one of the seven planets.
As quoted in Alistair Cameron Crombie, Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science, 1100-1700 (1953), 90.
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Against filling the Heavens with fluid Mediums, unless they be exceeding rare, a great Objection arises from the regular and very lasting Motions of the Planets and Comets in all manner of Courses through the Heavens.
From Opticks: Or, A Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections and Colours of Light (1718), 339.
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Any opinion as to the form in which the energy of gravitation exists in space is of great importance, and whoever can make his opinion probable will have, made an enormous stride in physical speculation. The apparent universality of gravitation, and the equality of its effects on matter of all kinds are most remarkable facts, hitherto without exception; but they are purely experimental facts, liable to be corrected by a single observed exception. We cannot conceive of matter with negative inertia or mass; but we see no way of accounting for the proportionality of gravitation to mass by any legitimate method of demonstration. If we can see the tails of comets fly off in the direction opposed to the sun with an accelerated velocity, and if we believe these tails to be matter and not optical illusions or mere tracks of vibrating disturbance, then we must admit a force in that direction, and we may establish that it is caused by the sun if it always depends upon his position and distance.
Letter to William Huggins (13 Oct 1868). In P. M. Hannan (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1995), Vol. 2, 1862-1873, 451-2.
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Aristotle’s opinion … that comets were nothing else than sublunary vapors or airy meteors … prevailed so far amongst the Greeks, that this sublimest part of astronomy lay altogether neglected; since none could think it worthwhile to observe, and to give an account of the wandering and uncertain paths of vapours floating in the Ether.

Astronomy teaches the correct use of the sun and the planets. These may be put on a frame of little sticks and turned round. This causes the tides. Those at the ends of the sticks are enormously far away. From time to time a diligent searching of the sticks reveals new planets. The orbit of the planet is the distance the stick goes round in going round. Astronomy is intensely interesting; it should be done at night, in a high tower at Spitzbergen. This is to avoid the astronomy being interrupted. A really good astronomer can tell when a comet is coming too near him by the warning buzz of the revolving sticks.
Literary Lapses (1928), 128.
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Because the region of the Celestial World is of so great and such incredible magnitude as aforesaid, and since in what has gone before it was at least generally demonstrated that this comet continued within the limits of the space of the Aether, it seems that the complete explanation of the whole matter is not given unless we are also informed within narrower limits in what part of the widest Aether, and next to which orbs of the Planets [the comet] traces its path, and by what course it accomplishes this.
De Mundi Aetherei Recentioribus Phaenomenis (On Recent Phenomena in the Aetherial World) (1588). Quoted in M. Boas Hall, The Scientific Renaissance 1450-1630 (1962), 115.

Believe me, this planet has put up with much worse than us. It’s been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, solar flares, sun-spots, magnetic storms, pole reversals, planetary floods, worldwide fires, tidal waves, wind and water erosion, cosmic rays, ice ages, and hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets, asteroids, and meteors. And people think a few plastic bags and aluminum cans are going to make a difference?
In Napalm and Silly Putty (2002), 97.
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But when we face the great questions about gravitation Does it require time? Is it polar to the 'outside of the universe' or to anything? Has it any reference to electricity? or does it stand on the very foundation of matter–mass or inertia? then we feel the need of tests, whether they be comets or nebulae or laboratory experiments or bold questions as to the truth of received opinions.
Letter to Michael Faraday, 9 Nov 1857. In P. M. Harman (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1990), Vol. 1, 1846-1862, 551-2.
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Consider now the Milky Way. Here also we see an innumerable dust, only the grains of this dust are no longer atoms but stars; these grains also move with great velocities, they act at a distance one upon another, but this action is so slight at great distances that their trajectories are rectilineal; nevertheless, from time to time, two of them may come near enough together to be deviated from their course, like a comet that passed too close to Jupiter. In a word, in the eyes of a giant, to whom our Suns were what our atoms are to us, the Milky Way would only look like a bubble of gas.
Science and Method (1908), trans. Francis Maitland (1914), 254-5.
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Curiosity that inborn property of man, daughter of ignorance and mother of knowledge when wonder wakens our minds, has the habit, wherever it sees some extraordinary phenomenon of nature, a comet for example, a sun-dog, or a midday star, of asking straightway what it means.
In The New Science (3rd ed., 1744), Book 1, Para. 189, as translated by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch, The New Science of Giambattista Vico (1948), 64.
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Damn the Solar System. Bad light; planets too distant; pestered with comets; feeble contrivance; could make a better myself.
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Every bird which flies has the thread of the infinite in its claw. Germination includes the hatching of a meteor and the tap of a swallow's bill breaking the egg, and it leads forward the birth of an earth-worm and the advent of Socrates.
Victor Hugo and Charles E. Wilbour (trans.), Les Misérables (1862), 41.
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Here lies Sir Isaac Newton, Knight, who by a vigour of mind almost supernatural, first demonstrated, the motions and Figures of the Planets, the Paths of the comets, and the Tides of the Oceans ... Let Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of Nature.
Inscribed on the tomb of Isaac Newton in Westminster Abbey.
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How bright and beautiful a comet is as it flies past our planet—provided it does fly past it.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 47.
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However dangerous might be the shock of a comet, it might be so slight, that it would only do damage at the part of the Earth where it actually struck; perhaps even we might cry quits if while one kingdom were devastated, the rest of the Earth were to enjoy the rarities which a body which came from so far might bring it. Perhaps we should be very surprised to find that the debris of these masses that we despised were formed of gold and diamonds; but who would be the most astonished, we, or the comet-dwellers, who would be cast on our Earth? What strange being each would find the other!
'Lettre sur la comète'. Œuvres de M. Maupertuis (1752), 203. In Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain (1986), 95-96.
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However, the small probability of a similar encounter [of the earth with a comet], can become very great in adding up over a huge sequence of centuries. It is easy to picture to oneself the effects of this impact upon the Earth. The axis and the motion of rotation changed; the seas abandoning their old position to throw themselves toward the new equator; a large part of men and animals drowned in this universal deluge, or destroyed by the violent tremor imparted to the terrestrial globe.
Exposition du Système du Monde, 2nd edition (1799), 208, trans. Ivor Grattan-Guinness.
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I conclude therefore that this star [Tycho’s supernova] is not some kind of comet or a fiery meteor, whether these be generated beneath the Moon or above the Moon, but that it is a star shining in the firmament itself—one that has never previously been seen before our time, in any age since the beginning of the world.
In De Stella Nova, as translated in Dagobert D. Runes, A Treasury of World Science (1962), 108.
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If I were a comet, I should consider the men of our present age a degenerate breed. In former times, the respect for comets was universal and profound.
In 'On Comets', collected in In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays (1935), 223.
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In the celestial spaces above the Earth’s atmosphere; in which spaces, where there is no air to resist their motions, all bodies will move with the greatest freedom; and the Planets and Comets will constantly pursue their revolutions in orbits … by the mere laws of gravity.
In 'General Scholium' from The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1729), Vol. 2, Book 3, 388.
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In the month of August 678, in the eighth year of Egfrid’s reign, there appeared a star known as a comet, which remained visible for three months, rising in the morning and emitting what seemed to be a tall column of bright flame.
From Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, Book V, Chap. XXIII., as translated by Leo Sherley-Price, revised by R.E. Latham, Ecclesiastical History of the English People (1955, 1990), 224.
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In the streets of a modern city the night sky is invisible; in rural districts, we move in cars with bright headlights. We have blotted out the heavens, and only a few scientists remain aware of stars and planets, meteorites and comets.
In 'On Comets', collected in In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays (1935), 224.
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In the year 1456 ... a Comet was seen passing Retrograde between the Earth and the sun... Hence I dare venture to foretell, that it will return again in the year 1758.
A Synopsis of the Astronomy of Comets (1705),22.

In the year of our Lord 729, two comets appeared around the sun, striking terror into all who saw them. One comet rose early and preceded the sun, while the other followed the setting sun at evening, seeming to portend awful calamity to east and west alike. Or else, since one comet was the precursor of day and the other of night, they indicated that mankind was menaced by evils at both times. They appeared in the month of January, and remained visible for about a fortnight, pointing their fiery torches northward as though to set the welkin aflame. At this time, a swarm of Saracens ravaged Gaul with horrible slaughter; … Both the outset and course of Ceolwulfs reign were filled by so many grave disturbances that it is quite impossible to know what to write about them or what the outcome will be.
From Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, Book V, Chap. XXIII., as translated by Leo Sherley-Price, revised by R.E. Latham, Ecclesiastical History of the English People (1955, 1990), 323. Note: The observation likely was on a single comet seen twice each day. The event is also in both the Laud and Parker manuscripts of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
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In the year of our Lord’s incarnation 678, which is the eighth of the reign of Egfrid, in the month of August, appeared a star, called a comet, which continued for three months, rising in the morning, and darting out, as it were, a pillar of radiant flame.
From Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum: The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Book IV, Chap. XII, as translated in J.A. Giles (ed.), The Miscellaneous Works of Venerable Bede (1843), Vol. 3, 57.
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In the year of our Lord’s incarnation 729, two comets appeared about the sun, to the great terror of the beholders. One of them went before the rising sun in the morning, the other followed him when he set at night, as it were presaging much destruction to the east and west; one was the forerunner of the day, and the other of the night, to signify that mortals were threatened with calamities at both times. They carried their flaming tails towards the north, as it were ready to set the world on fire. They appeared in January, and continued nearly a fortnight. At which time a dreadful plague of Saracens ravaged France with miserable slaughter; … the beginning and progress of Ceolwulf’s reign were so filled with commotions, that it cannot yet be known what is to be said concerning them, or what end they will have.
From Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, Book V, Chap. XXIII, as translated in J.A. Giles (ed.), The Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England. Also the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (1894), 291-292. The editor reprinted the translation based on the 1723 work of John Stevens into modern English. Note: The observation likely was on a single comet seen twice each day. The event is also in both the Laud and Parker manuscripts of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
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Of … habitable worlds, such as the Earth, all which we may suppose to be of a terrestrial or terraqueous nature, and filled with beings of the human species, subject to mortality, it may not be amiss in this place to compute how many may he conceived within our finite view every clear Star-light night. … In all together then we may safely reckon 170,000,000, and yet be much within compass, exclusive Of the Comets which I judge to be by far the most numerous part of the creation.
In The Universe and the Stars: Being an Original Theory on the Visible Creation, Founded on the Laws of Nature (1750, 1837), 131-132.
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Oh! But I have better news for you, Madam, if you have any patriotism as citizen of this world and wish its longevity. Mr. Herschel has found out that our globe is a comely middle-aged personage, and has not so many wrinkles as seven stars, who are evidently our seniors. Nay, he has discovered that the Milky Way is not only a mob of stars, but that there is another dairy of them still farther off, whence, I conclude, comets are nothing but pails returning from milking, instead of balloons filled with inflammable air.
Letter to the Countess of Upper Ossory (4 Jul 1785) in W. S. Lewis (ed.), Horace Walpole's Correspondence with the Countess of Upper Ossory (1965), Vol. 33, 474.
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Once I got into space, I was feeling very comfortable in the universe. I felt like I had a right to be anywhere in this universe, that I belonged here as much as any speck of stardust, any comet, any planet
As quoted in 'Then & Now: Dr. Mae Jemison' (19 Jun 2005) on CNN web site.
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Seeing therefore the variety of Motion which we find in the World is always decreasing, there is a necessity of conserving and recruiting it by active Principles, such as are the cause of Gravity, by which Planets and Comets keep their Motions in their Orbs, and Bodies acquire great Motion in falling; and the cause of Fermentation, by which the Heart and Blood of Animals are kept in perpetual Motion and Heat; the inward Parts of the Earth are constantly warm'd, and in some places grow very hot; Bodies burn and shine, Mountains take fire, the Caverns of the Earth are blown up, and the Sun continues violently hot and lucid, and warms all things by his Light. For we meet with very little Motion in the World, besides what is owing to these active Principles.
From Opticks, (1704, 2nd ed. 1718), Book 3, Query 31, 375.
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The horrors of Vivisection have supplanted the solemnity, the thrilling fascination, of the old unetherized operation upon the human sufferer. Their recorded phenomena, stored away by the physiological inquisitor on dusty shelves, are mostly of as little present use to man as the knowledge of a new comet or of a tungstate of zirconium … —contemptibly small compared with the price paid for it in agony and torture.
From address to the Massachusetts Medical Society (7 Jun 1871), 'Medical Education in America', collected in Surgical Anaesthesia: Addresses, and Other Papers (1894, 1900), 309.
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The motions of the Comets are exceeding regular, are govern’d by the same laws with the motions of the Planets,… with very eccentric motions through all parts of the heavens indifferently.
In 'General Scholium' from The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1729), Vol. 2, Book 3, 387.
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This hairy meteor did announce
The fall of sceptres and of crowns.
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This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 39
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We are hit by tons of material every day, but it is all dust. We are all walking around with comet dust in our hair.
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We speak of it [astrology] as an extinct science; yet let but an eclipse of the sun happen, or a comet visit the evening sky, and in a moment we all believe in astrology. In vain do you tell the gazers on such spectacles that a solar eclipse is only the moon acting for the time as a candle-extinguisher to the sun, and give them bits of smoked glass to look through, and draw diagrams on the blackboard to explain it all. They listen composedly, and seem convinced, but in their secret hearts they are saying—“What though you can see it through a glass darkly, and draw it on a blackboard, does that show that it has no moral significance? You can draw a gallows or a guillotine, or write the Ten Commandments on a blackboard, but does that deprive them of meaning?” And so with the comet. No man will believe that the splendid stranger is hurrying through the sky solely on a momentous errand of his own. No! he is plainly signalling, with that flashing sword of his, something of importance to men,—something at all events that, if we could make it out, would be found of huge concern to us.
From 'Introductory Lecture on Technology for 1858-59', published as The Progress of the Telegraph (1859), 19-20.
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What caused me to undertake the catalog was the nebula I discovered above the southern horn of Taurus on September 12, 1758, while observing the comet of that year. ... This nebula had such a resemblance to a comet in its form and brightness that I endeavored to find others, so that astronomers would not confuse these same nebulae with comets just beginning to shine. I observed further with suitable refractors for the discovery of comets, and this is the purpose I had in mind in compiling the catalog.
After me, the celebrated Herschel published a catalog of 2000 which he has observed. This unveiling the sky, made with instruments of great aperture, does not help in the perusal of the sky for faint comets. Thus my object is different from his, and I need only nebulae visible in a telescope of two feet [focal length].
Connaissance des Temps for 1800/1801. In Charles Coulston Gillespie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1974), Vol. 9, 330.
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When the movement of the comets is considered and we reflect on the laws of gravity, it will be readily perceived that their approach to Earth might there cause the most woeful events, bring back the deluge, or make it perish in a deluge of fire, shatter it into small dust, or at least turn it from its orbit, drive away its Moon, or, still worse, the Earth itself outside the orbit of Saturn, and inflict upon us a winter several centuries long, which neither men nor animals would be able to bear. The tails even of comets would not be unimportant phenomena, if in taking their departure left them in whole or part in our atmosphere
CosmoIogische Briefe über die Einrichtung des Weltbaues (1761). In Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain (1986), 95.
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Who vagrant transitory comets sees,
Wonders because they’re rare; but a new star
Whose motion with the firmament agrees,
Is miracle; for there no new things are.
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Why Become Extinct? Authors with varying competence have suggested that dinosaurs disappeared because the climate deteriorated (became suddenly or slowly too hot or cold or dry or wet), or that the diet did (with too much food or not enough of such substances as fern oil; from poisons in water or plants or ingested minerals; by bankruptcy of calcium or other necessary elements). Other writers have put the blame on disease, parasites, wars, anatomical or metabolic disorders (slipped vertebral discs, malfunction or imbalance of hormone and endocrine systems, dwindling brain and consequent stupidity, heat sterilization, effects of being warm-blooded in the Mesozoic world), racial old age, evolutionary drift into senescent overspecialization, changes in the pressure or composition of the atmosphere, poison gases, volcanic dust, excessive oxygen from plants, meteorites, comets, gene pool drainage by little mammalian egg-eaters, overkill capacity by predators, fluctuation of gravitational constants, development of psychotic suicidal factors, entropy, cosmic radiation, shift of Earth's rotational poles, floods, continental drift, extraction of the moon from the Pacific Basin, draining of swamp and lake environments, sunspots, God’s will, mountain building, raids by little green hunters in flying saucers, lack of standing room in Noah’s Ark, and palaeoweltschmerz.
'Riddles of the Terrible Lizards', American Scientist (1964) 52, 231.
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Without any doubt, the regularity which astronomy shows us in the movements of the comets takes place in all phenomena. The trajectory of a simple molecule of air or vapour is regulated in a manner as certain as that of the planetary orbits; the only difference between them is that which is contributed by our ignorance. Probability is relative in part to this ignorance, and in part to our knowledge.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1814), 5th edition (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), 3.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 20 -
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