A comet broke up in the 19th century - very close to the earth?

20 Oct 2011

Two Mexican astronomers have uploaded a paper onto the prepress server arXiv concerning objects passing in front of the Sun in 1883, surrounded by a hazy mist. They think it was fragments of a comet that must have come apart very near the Earth. At the time, photographs of the object were explained away as bugs on the camera lens, casting aspersions on the astronomer that presented his findings to the French astronomical association. The astronomer was in fact based in Mexico and he took copious notes too of what he saw on that day - rejected by the consensus scientists of the day. Now, what he wrote and what he saw has been reanalysed. The result is they are suggesting, because of the inferior photographic equipment available in the 19th century, that the objects were as near as 8000km from the Earth. However, no one else appears to have noticed the anomaly - no other astronomer anywhere in the world recorded the object. This may mean the trajectory was across central America and Africa where telescope astronomy was not in vogue but there was also no report of a bombardment by meteoric material at that time, a requisite if a comet had broken up so close to the atmosphere of the Earth - or is that wrong? The authors have an excuse - the parallax effect. This happens when an object is very close and only those closest to it can actually see it - but is this wishful thinking?

See also the debate on this at http://cosmictusk.com/near-miss/