Comets, Meteors, and Other Space Phenomena Depicted Over 1,000 Years
From the Bayeux Tapestry to early American photography.
Halley's Comet seen in the Bayeux Tapestry, 1070. Image: Wikipedia
In 1705, the fiery return of a celestial body named Halley's Comet was foreseen by English astronomer Edmond Halley, based on a theorized orbit that would swing the comet past Earth every 76 years or so. Since his accurate prediction, the timely apparition of Halley's Comet has been observed like clockwork. But long before the birth of super powerful telescopes, humans all over the world were staring up at the sky in attempts to make sense of the vast, dark expanse beyond the horizon.
Centuries before Halley's calculations, a group of artisans in Canterbury, England would embroider the very first depiction of Halley's Comet known to humanity. Created around 1070, the Bayeux Tapestry is one of the most famous representations of the Norman conquest over England in 1066. Static vignettes that chronicle the great Battle of Hastings expand over 230 feet of fabric, and nestled behind the crowning of King Harold II beams the venerable Halley's Comet. At the time, the comet was perceived as an evil omen, and is shown in the tapestry as a harbinger of the battle to come. Halley's Comet would have last been seen on April 24, 1066, just four months after Harold's coronation.
Comets, meteors, and meteorites have been shooting across works of art for more than a millennium. Tapestries, illuminated manuscripts, woodblock prints, and early photographs provide us with 1,000 years of visual astronomy conducted by people who probably never thought of themselves as astronomers.
Some of them are rough approximations of space phenomena as seen by the naked eye, while others are stunningly precise. Regardless, today they live on as shining reminders of our legacy as wonderers and explorers.