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Halley's Comet: Topics in Chronicling America

In 1909, newspaper predictions about the impact of Halley's Comet led to public fear and mass hysteria. This guide provides access to material related to "Halley's Comet" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.

Introduction

"Halley's Comet Headed Earthward." June 6, 1907. Hopkinsville Kentuckian (Hopkinsville, KY), Image 3. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

Streaking toward Earth after a 75-year absence, Halley's Comet is reported in the popular press as an "evil eye of the sky," creating mass hysteria, the public fearing it would “snuff out all life on Earth.” Opportunistic entrepreneurs hawked anti-comet pills, gas masks, and comet-protecting umbrellas. In the end, the May 1910 event proved harmless, while marking the first use of the spectroscope and the first photographic documentation of the comet’s sighting. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.

Timeline

September 1909 The first major news stories about Halley’s Comet begin to circulate.
February 1910 French astronomer Camille Flammarion is reported as saying that cyanogen gas in the comet’s tail will “snuff out” all life. Public anxiety about the “end of the world” persists for months.
April 20, 1910 The first sightings of Halley’s Comet are reported.
May 1910 Halley’s Comet passes between the earth and the sun without causing any atmospheric disturbances.