How Mark Twain and Halley’s Comet are Bizarrely Connected

Halley’s Comet is named for Edmond Halley. However, Halley wasn’t the first person to observe the comet, seeing as how it was mentioned as far back as the Records of the Grand Historian, which was completed at around 91 BC but not released until after 20 years or so because of political considerations. Moreover, there is even reason to suspect that Halley’s Comet was spotted back between 468 and 466 BC, though that particular incident has not been confirmed to be an appearance of said comet with the same certainty. Regardless, Halley’s name is attached to Halley’s Comet for the simple reason that he was the one who noticed that it was returning again and again, which was possible because he was the one who calculated its orbit throughout our solar system.

Based on this, it should come as no surprise to learn that Halley’s Comet is remarkable because it is the one short-period comet that can be seen with the naked eye from the Earth on a regular basis. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, a short-period comet is a comet with an orbital period of less than 200 years as opposed to those that take up more time to complete their orbits. Regardless, it is this characteristic that has made Halley’s Comet so much more accessible to us than most of its counterparts, which is why it was the first comet to have been observed by our spacecraft in exhaustive detail. Something that cemented its status in the history of astronomy by not just confirming certain theories about the make-up of comets but also helping us to further refine our understanding through the use of the information that was uncovered.

How Are Mark Twain and Halley’s Comet Connected with One Another?

With that said, considering how often Halley’s Comet has appeared in the skies of the Earth, it should come as no surprise to learn that it has often had a connection of one kind or another with a wide range of human cultures. For example, its appearance in 1066 was considered to be an omen by the people of England, which was borne out by the subsequent fall of Harold of Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings, thus resulting in the Norman rule of Anglo-Saxon England. Likewise, its appearance in 1910 contributed to existing tensions in China, meaning that it was one of the factors that contributed to the Xinhai Revolution that brought about the end of Imperial China. With that said, there are few cases as remarkable as that of Mark Twain, who had a rather strong connection with Halley’s Comet to say the least.

Generally speaking, Halley’s Comet shows up in the skies of Earth once per 74 to 79 years. As a result, it is possible for it to show up twice in a single person’s lifetime. In Twain’s case, he was born on November 30 of 1835, which was interesting in that it was two weeks following Halley’s Comet reaching perihelion, which is the point when it would’ve been closest to the sun. Based on this, when Twain wrote his autobiography, he stated that since he came into the world with the appearance of the comet, he would be very disappointed if he didn’t leave the world with the subsequent appearance and disappearance of the comet. As a result, it is perhaps unsurprising to learn that Twain died at the age of 74 on April 21 of 1910, which was the day right after the comet’s subsequent perihelion. The timing was so perfect that it actually inspired a fantasy movie called The Adventures of Mark Twain in 1985, which was very odd but nonetheless very interesting in that it focused on the idea of a fictionalized version of the great author heading out to meet his appointment with Halley’s Comet.


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