In the distant past, the appearance of comets in the sky was taken as an omen (usually bad) of events to come. The ancient Chinese knew that if there was an eclipse of the Sun they could scare it away if they beat their drums at it. But drum beating did not scare away comets; some remained in the sky for weeks or months at a time.
There’s a new comet coming. Its name is ISON. First discovered in September 2012, when it was near the orbit of Saturn, ISON has been tracked by astronomers around the world. Some predicted it would be the “comet of the century,” but so far it hasn’t lived up to those hopes. It should, however, brighten enough to be seen without a telescope as it comes closer to the Sun. If it survives its passage through the Sun’s corona on Nov. 28, it could be quite spectacular in early December.
At 3:30 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 13) Michael Chriss will treat the audience at the Arizona Senior Academy to a lecture about “Comets in History.” He will trace the history of cometary appearances, including that of Halley’s comet, from the ancient Chinese to modern times, when, thanks to Edmund Halley, we now know how to calculate the orbits of comets about the Sun and to predict their returns.
Chriss is a resident of The Academy Village and an Associate of the Steward Observatory. This spring he will teach a course on “The Philosophy and History of Astronomy” at the UA. As an undergraduate, he was one of the first University of Arizona students to major in astronomy.
Before retirement, Chriss was an adjunct professor of astronomy at San Francisco State and professor of astronomy and humanities at the College of San Mateo. He received a BS and MS degrees in astronomy from the University of Arizona with graduate studies in the history of art and science at UC Berkeley, Stanford and Oxford.
Submitted by Marcia Neugebauer, Academy Village Volunteer