The puzzled astronomers were left in a state of tantalizing uncertainty as to what had become of it. At the beginning of the year 1866 this feeling of bewilderment gained expression in the Annual Report of the Council of the Royal Astronomical Society. The matter continued, nevertheless, in the same state of provoking uncertainty for another six years. The third period of the perihelion passage had then passed, and nothing had been seen of the missing luminary. But on the night of November 27, 1872, night-watchers were startled by a sudden and a very magnificent display of falling stars or meteors, of which there had been no previous forecast, and Professor Klinkerflues, of Berlin, having carefully noted the common radiant point in space from which this star-shower was discharged into the earth’s atmosphere, with the intuition of ready genius jumped at once to the startling inference that here at last were traces of the missing luminary. There were eighty of the meteors that furnished a good position for the radiant point of the discharge, and that position, strange to say, was very much the same as the position in space which Biela’s comet should have occupied just about that time on its fourth return toward perihelion. Klinkerflues, therefore, taking this spot as one point in the path of the comet, and carrying the path on as a track into forward space, fixed the direction there through which it should pass as a ‘vanishing-point’ at the other side of the starry sphere, and having satisfied himself of that further position he sent off a telegram to the other side of the world, where alone it could be seen—that is to say, to Mr. Pogson, of the Madras Observatory—which may be best told in his own nervous and simple words.
Herr Klinkerflues’s telegram to Mr. Pogson, of Madras, was to the following effect:
“’November 30th—Biela touched the earth on the 27th of November. Search for him near Theta Centauri.’
“The telegram reached Madras, through Russia, in one hour and thirty-five minutes, and the sequel of this curious passage of astronomical romance may be appropriately told in the words in which Mr. Pogson replied to Herr Klinkerflues’s pithy message. The answer was dated Madras, the 6th of December, and was in the following words:
“’On the 30th of November, at sixteen hours, the time of the comet rising here, I was at my post, but hopelessly; clouds and rain gave me no chance. The next morning I had the same bad luck. But on the third trial, with a line of blue break, about 17¼ hours mean time, I found Biela immediately! Only four comparisons in successive minutes could be obtained, in strong morning twilight, with an anonymous star; but direct motion of 2.5 seconds decided that I had got the comet all right. I noted it—circular, bright, with, a decided nucleus, but NO TAIL, and about forty-five seconds in diameter. Next morning I got seven good comparisons with an anonymous star, showing a motion of 17.9 seconds in twenty-eight minutes, and I also got two comparisons with a Madras star in our current catalogue, and with 7,734 Taylor. I was too anxious to secure one good place for the one in hand to look for the other comet, and the fourth morning was cloudy and rainy.’