[1. “Edinburgh Review,” October, 1874, p. 205.]
describing a spiral, will be plunged into the incandescent mass of the sun can be calculated."
The comet of 1874, first seen by Coggia, at Marseilles, and called by his name, came between the earth and the sun, and approached within sixty thousand miles of the flaming surface of the sun. It traveled through this fierce blaze at the rate of three hundred and sixty-six miles per second! Three hundred and sixty-six miles per second! When a railroad-train moves at the rate of a mile per minute, we regard it as extraordinary speed; but three hundred and sixty-six miles per second! The mind fails to grasp it.
When this comet was seen by Sir John Herschel, after it had made its grand sweep around the sun, it was not more than six times the breadth of the sun’s face away from the sun. And it had come careering through infinite space with awful velocity to this close approximation to our great luminary.
And remember that these comets are no animalculæ. They are monsters that would reach from the sun to the earth. And when we say that they come so close to the sun as in the above instances, it means peril to the earth by direct contact; to say nothing of the results to our planet by the increased combustion of the run, and the increased heat on earth should one of them fall upon the sun. We have seen, in the last chapter, that the great comet of 1843 possessed a tail one hundred and fifty million miles long; that is, it would reach from the sun to the earth, and have over fifty million miles of tail to spare; and it swept this gigantic appendage around in two hours, describing the are of a circle six hundred million miles long!
[1. Guillemin, “The Heavens,” p. 247.]
The mind fails to grasp these figures. Solar space is hardly large enough for such gyrations.
And it must be remembered that this enormous creature actually grazed the surface of the sun.
And it is supposed that this monster of 1843, which was first seen in 1668, returned, and was seen in the southern hemisphere in 1880—that is to say, it came back in thirty-seven years instead of one hundred and seventy-five years. Whereupon Mr. Proctor remarked:
“If already the comet experiences such resistance in passing through the corona when at its nearest to the sun that its period undergoes a marked diminution, the effect must of necessity be increased at each return, and after only a few, possibly one or two, circuits, the comet will be absorbed by the sun.”
On October 10, 1880, Lewis Swift, of Rochester, New York, discovered a comet which has proved to be of peculiar interest. From its first discovery it has presented no brilliancy of appearance, for, during its period of visibility, a telescope of considerable power was necessary to observe it. Since this comet, when in close proximity to the earth, was very faint indeed, its dimensions must be quite moderate.