After taking a look at meteors, it seems only fitting to acknowledge their more colorful astral kindred, comets. Much more rarely seen, comets don’t come splashing down into our atmosphere every day, nor do they do it in droves like their often smaller cousins; comets are to meteors what hurricanes are to rainstorms. They come in many different colors and they come in many different sizes, they’ve got tails, they’ve got names, they’ve got pizazz.
(images via xollob58, John Kerr, DJMcRady, Steve Crane)
Comets are known for their tails, their striking color, their fantastic appearance, and their non-conformist ways. While every planet in the Solar System follows a static orbit, these fiery loners make their own lonely way through the dark. Their orbits are constantly shifting, making them unpredictable, and they show no intention of ever stopping on their seemingly endless quest for whatever it is they’re searching for. The moment a person sets eyes on a comet, the image of its lion’s mane flowing behind it is burned into the mind forever. Each comet is unique, and shows off through gorgeous light displays and tail configurations during hours, if not days-long journeys across our sky.
We Name What We Respect
(images via John White, Starman Mike)
The word Comet itself is from Greek, meaning the Hair of the Head, and that alone helps show that we can’t help but humanized these “wandering stars.” When our enlightened progenitors started recognizing certain comets as returning entities, they started naming them, like a long absent friend who’s come home. Depictions of comets can be found in some of the earliest temple-art throughout the world, and it’s widely believed that there are many dramatic entries in major religious texts that are in fact describing the appearance of a comet in the sky. Nearly always seen as either good omens or harbingers of death, comets may have played a vastly more important role in our history than we could ever truly know.
(images via Starman Mike)
In a modern twist, the now-infamous Heaven’s Gate Cult committed mass-suicide in 1997, in a vainglorious attempt to flee Earth by hitching a ghostly ride on the Hale Bop Comet. Such beliefs hadn’t been prevalent in society for so long that it seemed completely alien to us that a group of people could really follow through with such an action. While modernized, so far as to include uniformly black Nike sneakers (also launched to infamy), this incident reminded us in a very real way of the power these celestial behemoths can still hold over the imagination. 2,000 years ago, in a world without technology or even proper education, one has to wonder just how much sway humanized comets may have had.