Halley’s Comet (1668–1687): By the 17th century the development of scientific reasoning, new mathematical skills, and instruments dedicated to scientific investigations would forever change the way that people viewed nature. For astronomers, this century would generate scientific investigations examining the place of comets in the heavens. The results of these studies served as a confirmation of several theories on the physical laws of the universe. While the majority of this work was being performed in the new scientific observatories and laboratories of Europe, the bulk of the observational data on comets had been done centuries before by ancient civilizations.
The sudden appearance of a comet in the night sky had many meanings in ancient cultures. Unlike the brief life span of a meteor entering the atmosphere, the sighting of a comet often persisted for days or even weeks. Each evening the comet appeared to continue its leisurely movement across the heavens, with a pattern of motion that was independent of the sun, moon, or planets. To many cultures, the appearance of comets was viewed as an omen, and for this reason many early cultures kept detailed records on the appearance of these heavenly visitors. Available documents from the Sumerian and Akkadian cultures make reference to comet-like phenomena, and some of these records date back to around 4000 B.C.E. The Aztec, Mayan, and Indian cultures also record the appearance of comets throughout their history. However, the most abundant and accurate ancient observations of comets belong to the Chinese. The ancient Chinese dynasties recorded the appearance of over 600 comets, some of them dating from 2315 B.C.E. The Chinese first recognized Halley’s comet during its 240
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Publication information: Book title: Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the 17th Century. Contributors: Michael Windelspecht - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 2002. Page number: 81.
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