The Great Comet of 1680
Rotterdam, Painting by Atlas van Stolk

This is a 1680 painting of a beautiful comet with a long, golden tail.
This comet was so bright it could be seen in the daytime, not just at night.

The Great Comet of 1680
A contemporary English drawing

The Great Comet of 1680 over Rotterdam
Artist: Lieve Verschuier Source: Wikipedia
Interesting to note how many persons are shown using a Jacob’s Staff or Cross-staff. A cross-staff was an instrument used in navigation to determine angles. It was particularly useful for finding the ship’s latitude by measuring the altitude of Polaris, the North Star, above the horizon. It was probably used here to determine the altitude of the comet and approximate the length of its tail.

A German etching of Kirch’s Comet. Etched in 1707

The Comet over Rome

The Comet as seen from Nuremburg

"A comet which has been oberved in 1680 and 1681" (German engraving)

The Great Comet of 1680 -Kirch’s Comet

This is what the first Dutch settlers of Esopus, New York, saw in the sky over 300 years ago!

Excerpt from The History of Kingston, by Marius Schoonmaker, 1888, at page 70

On the 9th of December 1680, there appeared an extraordinary comet, which caused very great consternation throughout the province, with forebodings of dreadful happenings and divine punishments. It is described, in a letter dated January 1st, 1681, as having "appeared in the Southwest on the ninth of December last, about two o'clock in the afternoon, fair sunshine weather, a little above the sun, which takes its course more northerly,and was seen the Sunday night, right after about twilight, with a very fiery tail or streamer in the west, to the great astonishment of all spectators, and is now seen every night with clear weather. Undoubtedly, God threatens us with dreadful punishments if we do not repent." The letter then suggested the propriety of proclaiming a day of humiliation and prayer.

And here is what the residents of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island observed!

Excerpt from The Dutch and Quaker Colonies in America , by John Fiske, 1903 Edition, Vol II, at page 59

Late in the autumn of 1680 the good people of Manhattan were overcome with terror at a sight in the heavens such as has seldom greeted human eyes. An enormous comet, perhaps the most magnificent one on record, suddenly made its appearance. At first it was tailless and dim, like a nebulous cloud, but at the end of a week the tail began to show itself and in a second week had attained a length of 30 degrees; in the third week it extended to 70 degrees, while the whole mass was growing brighter. After five weeks it seemed to be absorbed into the intense glare of the sun, but in four days more it reappeared like a blazing sun itself in the throes of some giant convulsion and threw out a tail in the opposite direction as far as the whole distance between the sun and the earth. Sir Isaac Newton, who was then at work upon the mighty problems soon to be published to the world in his "Principia," welcomed this strange visitor as affording him a beautiful instance for testing the truth of his new theory of gravitation. But most people throughout the civilized world, the learned as well as the multitude, feared that the end of all things was at hand. Every church in Europe, from the grandest cathedral to the humblest chapel, resounded with supplications, and in the province of New York a day of fasting and humiliation was appointed, in order that the wrath of God might be assuaged. Let us take a brief survey of the little city on Manhattan Island, upon which Newton's comet looked down, while Dominie Nieuwenhuysen and Dominie Frazius were busy with prayers to avert the direful omen.

For further reading from this great book of Colonial history visit Bill Thayer's awesome website!

The comet as seen from London and Germany!

as attributed to Tinsley’s Magazine (London) and reprinted in The New York Times on July 30, 1882

On the 20th of December, 1680, shortly after sunset, Newton’s comet became visible above the horizon of London. It was a magnificent object, having a tail 90,000,000 miles in length. A month previously it had been seen at Coburg, in Germany, but it was not then very bright, and had only begun to throw out a tail. When seen in England it was receding from the sun, having passed its perihelion on the 8th of December. Now, the most interesting thing about this comet was its near approach to the sun. At its perihelion we know that it was about one-sixth part of the sun’s diameter from his surface, or, in other words, was distant from his centre about one-sixtieth part of our distance from it. The heat which we receive from a tropical sun at midday is considerable, but the comet must have experienced 25,600 times that amount. It is difficult to form any conception of such a temperature. Suffice it to say that every known material would be vaporized under it. How the comet behaved when thus heated can never be known, for it was lost in the glare of the sun at the time. When it did reappear, after wheeling round the sun with a speed of 1,200,000 miles an hour, it had developed an enormous tail, and we must look upon that as one of the results of the heating process. But the step made at this point did not refer to the physical constitution of comets. Newton (1643-1727) was about as far at sea as his predecessors here, for he thought that they were “solid, compact, fixed, and durable, like the bodies of the planets.” The real advance was in the problem of their motion. Borelli (1608-1679) had thought that the parabola might be the form of their orbits; but Dorfel (1643-1688), a German astronomer, after carefully considering all the observations of the comet of 1680, came to the positive conclusion that it did move in a parabolic orbit with the sun in its focus. Halley (1656-1742) went further. Adopting the great theory of gravitation, just then conceived and worked out by Newton, he sought, and ultimately found, an ellipse which satisfied the observations.

One more “first hand” account of the Comet as seen from Scotland!

Attributed to The Reverend Robert Law(approx 1624-1689). Law was a minister during the tumultuous “Restoration Period” of Scottish history and author of The Memorable Things that Fell Out within this Island of Brittain from 1638 to 1684.).

‘December 10, being Fryday, 1680, after sun-sett, there appeared in the west a comet, having a large broad and great streamer coming from it, the lyke was never seen or read of, and continued till the 16th or 17th day of January, growing smaller and smaller to it’s end;’

Background and Additional Information

On November 14, 1680, Gottfried Kirch detected a new comet, becoming on that day the first person to discover a comet using a telescope. Astronomers throughout Europe tracked its position for several months. It was visible in the Northern hemisphere and by the end of that year the comet became bright enough to be seen at noon as it completed its hairpin turn around the Sun. The long, golden tail of the comet of 1680 was estimated to be 30,000,000 miles in length.

Originally thought to be two comets, the comets of late 1680 and early 1681 were in fact a single comet observed before and after perihelion, a situation that hindsight reveals as critical in the determination of the cometary trajectory. Upon examining the course of comets, it is easy to believe that some of them must occasionally fall into the sun. The comet 1680 approached so near, that, at its perihelion, it was not more distant from the sun than a sixteenth part of its diameter; and, if it returns, which some predict, in the year 2255, it may then fall into the sun. This must depend upon the accidents it meets with in its course, and the retardations it suffers in passing through the sun's atmosphere.

An excerpt from The Encyclopedia of Geography, By Hugh Murray, Phila., 1837, Vol 1 at page 115 describes the visit of this comet also;

A very remarkable comet was seen in the end of 1680 and beginning of 1681. Its tail extended 70 degrees, and was very brilliant. This comet, of all those which have been observed, approaches nearest to the sun. Descending with immense velocity in a path almost perpendicular to his surface, it proceeded until its distance from his centre was only about 540,000 miles. Sir Isaac Newton computed that, in consequence of so near an approach to the sun, it must have received a heat 2000 times greater than that of iron almost going into fusion; and that if it was equal in magnitude to our earth, and cooled in the same manner as terrestrial bodies, its heat would not be expended in less than 50,000 years.

Three observations on comets are recorded in history, agreeing in remarkable circumstances with the comet of 1680: - one in the 44th year before Christ; another in the consulate of Lampadius and Orestes, about the year of Christ 531; and the third in the reign of Henry I. of England, in the year 1106. These dates are nearly at equal distances of times, namely, 575 years; which is also the period between 1106 and 1681. Hence Dr. Edmund Halley conjectured that these might be successive appearances of one and the same comet, revolving about the sun in the period of about 575 years. If this conjecture is well founded, this comet may be expected again, after finishing the same period, about the year 2255.

Using the 575 year period, William Whiston, a contemporary and disciple of the great Isaac Newton believed that the comet of 1680 had literally grazed the earth after the fall of Eden, triggering the Noachian Deluge (Noah's Flood) in 2346 BC.

Further reference to the influence of a comet on the Great Flood was offered by Abraham Rockenbach. A scholar of the late Renaissance and the chair of Greek and of Mathematics at the University of Frankfurt. In 1602 he published a short treatise in Latin, De cometis tractatus novus methodicus, which had the following entry concerning the Deluge:

In the year of the creation of the world 1656, after Noah had attained the age of 600 years, three days before the death of Methusalem, a comet appeared in the constellation Pisces, was seen by the entire world as it traversed the twelve signs of the zodiac in the space of a month; on the sixteenth of April it again disappeared. After this the Deluge immediately followed, in which all creatures which live on earth and creep on the ground were drowned, with the exception of Noah and the rest of the creatures that had gone with him into the ark. About these things is written in Genesis, chapter 7.

Modern scholars disagree with Newton and Halley on the period of the Comet 1680 and have proposed that its orbital period is actually 9,356 years. There seem to be different opinions on which is correct.

UPDATE September 2012 - EXCITING NEWS!

A new comet named ISON has just been discovered!

The orbital elements of ISON are so surprisingly similar to that of the Comet of 1680 that it has caused speculation in the astronomy community that the two bodies may have once been one comet. ISON will pass close to planet Mars next October and will approach very close to the Sun in November and December 2013. So close, in fact, that there is a good chance the fierce heating it will experience may make the comet so bright that it will be visible to the naked eye – even during broad daylight! If predictions hold true there is a chance this comet may be at its finest on Christmas Eve 2013. What a spectacular sight that would make! This could develop into a “once in a lifetime” opportunity for spectators in the Northern Hemisphere to witness and photograph a truly great comet. Let’s hope this comet doesn’t disrupt or dissipate before reaching the Sun.

UPDATE September 2013 - COMET ISON (C/2012 S1)

Here are some interesting notes/comments gleaned from various internet articles about ISON - All are Unverified!

  •  Nov 1-2, 2013 ISON (C/2012 S1) will pass close in front of Earth Orbit
  •  Nov 3, - Comets are notoriously unpredictable but interestingly this ISON will pass directly THROUGH earths orbit on the 3rd Nov., just when the H3 Rare HYBRID solar eclipse is happening!
  •  Nov 28-29, it will speed up as it rounds the SUN - It's going to be closest to the Sun on Nov 28, 2013, between 6:30 and 8:30 pm UTC, a distance of 0.013 AU from the Sun. I can't see how it will survive at that distance.
  •  Nov 29-30, it will be clear of the SUN and glow brighter each day there after. If it makes it passed the SUN?
  •  Dec 24-26, it will light the night sky
  •  Jan 12-17, 2014 the SUN could be blocked out from the comets long tail of star dust, Even if it does not make it around the SUN
  •  Jan 14-16, Earth going right thru its tail path - The earth shall then PASS THROUGH this dusty debris field on the 15th Jan,. causing meteors & rainbow noctilucent clouds. (Night clouds or noctilucent clouds are tenuous cloud-like phenomena that are the "ragged-edge" of a much brighter and pervasive polar cloud layer called polar mesospheric clouds in the upper atmosphere, visible in a deep twilight. They are made of crystals of water ice.)

ISON might not survive passage by the Sun. NASA has said it could be fizzling out and we won't get to see it in November

The nucleus is only a few miles across but the gas and dust cloud that surrounds it will be huge due to low gravity. The dust reflects sunlight to make it bright.

Comet Negra- 1347. The great Comet of 1680, and the comet ISON coming in Dec. 2013?- Each is separated by 333 years. Is there a trend here?

I believe they were dubbing it the comet of the century because of it's trajectory. There was a slight possibility that it could have collided with Mars and it is going to pass directly over the Earths north pole on it's way back out. This should make it very observable to the people of the Earth if it makes it around the Sun.

People SHOULD worry about an encounter with isons tail. it will create worldwide meteor STORMS on a continuous stream including mass impacts of small to medium size debris and even? possible worldwide rainfall and mass flooding from ice particles off the comet flooding our atmosphere with water vapour

Images obtained by Spitzer’s Infrared Array Camera indicated that the comet’s tail was about 186,400 miles long. That seems to be a lot of mass lost each day for a small comet. ? 186,400 is the speed of light. This visitor must be bigger than they are trying to say.

According to researchers from NASA, last June, ISON was emitting about 2.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide gas, and about 120 million pounds of dust every day.

Go to the You Tube video of C/2012 S1 (ISON) under (Deep Impact Spacecraft Eyes Comet ISON 2013 1080p HD ) Pause and play the video frame to frame beginning at :40 to the end of? the video and you will notice object appear and disappear around the if there were smaller planets revolving around it. Interesting!

  •     Aphelion and Perihelion refer to the elliptical orbit of a comet about the Sun
  •     Aphelion: The Point in which a comet passes farthest from the Sun.
  •     Perihelion: The Point in which a comet passes closest to the Sun.


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