With Comet ISON approaching late 2013 it is promising to be the brightest, and most visible comet ever. But so far as comets come and go the most notable is Halley’s Comet which has an orbit of 75 to 76 years and is the only short term comet that is visible to the naked eye. But what about other comets? There have been some comets throughout history that have been quite spectacular.
The two brightest comets in recorded history occurred almost two thousand years apart. They both had very close perihelion’s (the point of closest approach to the sun) and a negative magnitude. A negative magnitude signifies that it is extremely bright.
The first of these comets, and as far as some regard as the brightest, was Caesar’s Comet of 44BC. It was said to have appeared at the death of Julius Caesar and was visible for seven days. Many writers of the day claimed it was sent to carry the soul of Caesar off to make him a star to watch over the forum. Historians and physicists believe this comet may have been -4 magnitude.
The second comet in contention to be brightest was the Great Comet of 1882. It had a negative magnitude of -7 and was bright enough to be visible next to the sun during it’s perihelion.
It is difficult to compare comets from centuries ago as the scientific apparatus used to detect brightness is a relative new invention. Historians and physicists must rely on eye witness accounts from the day and draw their conclusions from that. Either way, whether it was Caesars Comet or the Great Comet of 1882 that was the brightest ever both would have been a magnificent sight to see.