How Is Mark Twain Associated With Halley’s Comet

Overview of Halley’s Comet

Halley’s Comet is a periodic comet that visits our solar system every 75–76 years. It is one of the most famous comets, being visible to the naked eye for weeks at a time and also easily visible in photographs. Halley’s Comet is probably best remembered for its 1910 passage, which marked the first time it was observed in modern times and was the first comet to have its orbital path accurately calculated. Halley’s Comet is named after the English astronomer Edmund Halley, who correctly identified the comet’s orbit and predicted its return in 1758.

Halley’s Comet was observed from ancient times, including Greek and Chinese records from ca. 240 BC and 87 BC respectively. Past sightings of this comet are believed to be responsible for certain mythological figures like the Chinese deity Ji Yun Mo, the Mexican god Quetzalcoatl, and the Greek god Phaethon, all of whom were associated with the sky.

Halley’s Comet passes by Earth every 76 years, its next visit is forecasted to be in 2061. During its travels it leaves a coma, a tails of dust and gas mixed with microscopic particles, strewn in its wake. Because of its relatively frequent visits, Halley’s Comet has become a mainstay in popular culture. Movies, books, scientific papers, as well as other works of art have been devoted to the comet.

Mark Twain and Halley’s Comet

Mark Twain is one of the best-known authors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is chiefly famous for his notable works such as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). Despite his fame, one of Twain’s most memorable notations was not found in any of his books. Just before the comet’s 1910 flyby, Twain wrote an essay to be published in the New York Times that he hoped would be read by many people.

In it, he admitted his doubts about the celestial phenomenon: “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year [1910], and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together’.”

As it turns out, Twain died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910, about a month before the comet was closest to Earth. The ultimate coincidental irony—Mark Twain’s birth and death coinciding bookend Halley’s comet—has cemented his legacy and legacy of the comet itself in public imagination.

In his writings and publicly, Twain touched on a range of topics such as the human condition, politics, race and death. But, his simple and poetic words regarding Halley’s Comet were some of his most powerful reflections, justifying his life and death in a trajectory that resonates with us today.

Halley’s Comet and Space Exploration

The anticipation of Halley’s Comet has led to a number of exciting changes in space exploration. For instance, in 1986, the European Space Agency launched the Giotto space probe to become the first spacecraft to ever observe the nucleus of a comet at close range. The results of the investigation were astoundingly successful and were credited with completely revolutionizing the way scientists view comets.

The Halley Armada, a combined effort by world space agencies, was developed in order to analyze Halley’s Comet as it passed by in 1986. The Armada included the Giotto spacecraft from Europe, as well as the Soviet Union’s Vega and the International Comet Explorer from the United States. All three spacecrafts gathered invaluable data on the comet including its composition, gas production, size, and other essential information that has been used to form new theories regarding comet formation.

In 2005 and 2006, two spacecrafts were sent by NASA and the Japanese Space Agency to meet up with comet Tempel 1 and subsequently analyze it. The spacecrafts, called Deep Impact and Hayabusa, each had the goal of collecting more data about the comet. Together, the mining and bombardment from the spacecraft provided unique insight into the comet’s composition and formation.

Popular Culture Perspectives On Halley’s Comet

The implications of comet Halley have become deeply embedded in public imagination perhaps due to its somewhat frequent visits as well as the timeless reflections of Mark Twain about his life ending with the comet’s passing. In popular culture, Halley’s Comet is associated with a range of motifs, such as death and omens in literature, music, and film.

In the 1964 Dr. Strangelove film, the protagonist, General Jack D. Ripper, uses Halley’s Comet to help explain his motives. He postulates that Soviet water fluoridation is responsible for the coma associated with Halley’s Comet and consequently his sexual urges. The film concludes with imagery of Halley’s comet (the same footage originally used in When Worlds Collide) as a symbol of death, destruction, and even rebirth.

In music, Halley’s Comet has been the topic of various songs including ones from the early ’80s and the most recent track, ‘Halley’s Comet’ (2018) by Ariel Pink. In 2005, Matt Nathanson released ‘Come On Get Higher’, which was modeled after experience of his father dying as the comet made its initial approach toward Earth. Similarly, John Grant released ‘Halley’s Comet’ from his third studio album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, with many of the lyrics inspired by Twain. As a whole, these songs attempt to capture the profound emotions that Halley’s Comet invokes.

Halley’s Comet and Astrology

In astrology, Halley’s Comet has been connected to the period of rebirth and change in the human world given the connections between cosmic events and human existence. In Barbara Hand Clow’s book The Alchemy of Nine Dimensions: The 2011/2012 Prophecies and Nine Dimensions of Consciousness, the comet is seen as a powerful harbinger of astrological change. The periods when it comes into view often bring about massive shifts both in the collective and personal lives of people. According to Clow, this “archetypal energy shift” is associated with the comet’s ability to challenge existing power structures while inspiring progress and regeneration.

In essence, Clow suggests that Halley’s Comet stirs up powerful energies and changes in the collective psyche. Such changes often cause revolutionary upheavals or great evolutionary leaps in human consciousness, depending on how people choose to channel its transformative power.

Future Relevance of Halley’s Comet

Halley’s Comet will continue to have a place in scientific and astrological research. It is forecasted to visit us again in 2061, and since its orbit is not affected much by planetary attraction, if the time of its approach is accurately predicted, then it could potentially be the target of a spacecraft mission. Such exploratory mission will have to overcome numerous challenges, however, it could lead to significant discoveries.

Halley’s Comet belongs to the group of short period comets, those comets that take less than 200 years to complete an orbit around the Sun. As such, they are of great interests to astronomers, as they offer valuable information about the formation and evolution of comets as well as the Solar System in general. It is expected that as the comet passes by again, new advances in technology and better observing techniques will allow scientists to acquire ground-breaking insight into the enigmatic transport of interstellar matter.

Halley’s Comet has held a special place in the zeitgeist long before and after Mark Twain’s musings on its passing. Its heavily embedded in our collective understanding and imagination, bringing together history and science in one intensely powerful narrative.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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