Comets

Since time immemorial comets have fascinated humans. In a common person’s terms, a Comet is a star with a ‘tail’. For a long time people thought that Comets were sporadic occurrences and were associated with evil events; at least they thought that the Comets forecasted unpleasant events.

Comets were considered ill omens (see William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar, II, ii, 30–31):
“When beggars die there are no Comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”

Calpurnia, wife of Julius Caesar, is upset, because she saw comets in her dream, which she interprets as a premonition of a prince’s death. She pleads with Caesar to stay back. Caesar’s priests too, on his consultation with them, warn that Caesar stays back. These Shakespearean words reflect the mindset of people of that time, who thought that visions of comets occur before any unpleasant event.

People then never knew of the science of Comets that they are celestial bodies circling the Sun and appear at periodic intervals. Comets foreshadow history-making events. In individuals whose birth coincides with the appearance of Comets, the effect may be delayed so that it is generally overlooked. Comets with elongated orbits are periodic and appear at regular intervals. Those with either a parabolic or a hyperbolic orbit are not expected to return.

Halley’s conjecture

The first recognized periodic Comet is what is today popularly known as the Halley’s Comet, which celebrates the life and achievements of Sir Edmond Halley, who precisely predicted its appearance in 1758. Using Newton’s Law’s and historical records, Halley concluded that the Comets, which appeared in 1531, 1607, and 1682, were, in fact, the same. Edmond Halley was a British astronomical genius. He was a contemporary of Isaac Newton. Applying Newtonian laws, he discovered the Comet, which celebrates his name.

Halley was born in Haggerston, north-east of London in 1656. Halley’s father manufactured soap. Why Edmond took to astronomy is uncertain, but the Comets of 1664 and 1665 may have influenced his interest. His passion of astronomy was well developed when he went to the University of Oxford in 1673. He came to be a protégé of Astronomer John Flamsteed. Halley was self-confident and ambitious. Without waiting to finish his studies at Oxford, he persuaded his father to support him on a two-year travel to St Helena, an island in South Atlantic to pursue his interest. On his successful return to England, he was rewarded the accolades of the Royal Society. King Charles II, patron of the Royal Society, ordered the University of Oxford to award Halley his master’s degree.

When Halley left for Paris at the end of 1680, a Comet appeared in the morning sky. By the time he arrived in Paris the Comet had circled the Sun and had reappeared in the evening sky. It was the talk of the town, but was not realized that it was the same Comet seen a few weeks before. Even Isaac Newton, watching from Cambridge, thought two Comets had appeared. Halley calculated the Comet’s movement, taking Kepler’s word that such a celestial body would travel in a straight line. Halley continued study of this cosmic phenomenon. He returned to London in 1682, when another Comet appeared. This was the Comet that was to bear his name, although Halley never knew of it.

Before Halley, the consensus was that Comets were visible because of disturbances in the atmosphere. This consensus was disproved by Tycho Brahe in 1577. Many were unconvinced. The popular view was that Comets follow a straight path through the solar system. This view was challenged by Edmond Halley based on his conjecture on the three Comets sighted in 1531, 1607, and 1682. Halley did not see the reappearance of the Comet in 1758; he died in 1742. Halley’s Comet has an orbital period of about 76 years.

Generally any person gets one opportunity to see a Comet, such as the Halley’s, once in a lifetime; rarely can one see the same Comet twice. American humourist Mark Twain was born two weeks after Halley’s Comet appearing in 1835. Mark Twain said that it would be a disappointment if he did not die when it appeared again in 1910. Interestingly enough his hope was fulfilled; he died a day after the Comet reappeared in 1910.

Classification of Comets

Comets are generally divided into two categories based on their periodicity: (1) short-period Comets ― periodicity 200 years or less; (2) long-period Comets ― these appear once in a millennium; the latter’s periodicity can range from 200 to millions of years. Non- periodic Comets are also known as single apparition Comets, whose trajectory is either a parabola or a hyperbola. An example of a non- periodic Comet is C/1980E1 discovered by Edward Bowell on 11 February 1980. It has a projected periodicity of 7.1 million years.

Halley’s Comet continues to be the most famous of all. It is anticipated that it will return in 2061, having made its last appearance in 1986.

Shoemaker–Levy 9 was discovered by Carolyn and Eugene Shoemaker and David Levy on 24 March 1993.

Hale Bopp was discovered Alan Hale of New Mexico and Thomas Bopp of Arizona, using Hubble telescope, immediately outside Jupiter’s orbit, on 23 July 1995. It was visible to an unaided human eye for a long time; predicted that this Comet will not reappear in the next 2400 years.

Swift Turtle was discovered by Lewis Swift and Horace Turtle in 1862; predicted that this Comet might collide with the Earth one day since both orbits closely intercept each other.

Hyakutake was discovered by Yuji Hyakutake; may not reappear in the next 14000 years.

Comets constitute ice and dust. Every Comet has five parts: nucleus, coma, hydrogen cloud, dust, and ion tails. Nucleus consists of mainly ice and gas with some dust and unknown solids; coma is a dense water cloud of carbon dioxide and other gases; hydrogen cloud is a massive section of hydrogen; dust tail is the most visible part of the Comet made up of dust extending from the nucleus; and ion tail is the part of the tail that interacts with the solar wind.

Comets orbit the Sun similar to planets. Without the Sun, Comets would not be seen! They reflect light from the sun. As the Comet approaches the sun, radiation evaporates the ice. This causes the formation of coma – which is gaseous and the dust from the nucleus is pulled out. Radiation from the sun blows the dust away – hence the dust tail. Solar wind drags the ionized gas creating the ion tail. Maybe after orbiting the sun 500 times or so, most of the gas and ice is lost and the Comet turns into an asteroid.

This completes our understanding of basic astronomical details of Comets. Now we shall proceed to discuss their astrological indications.

Comets and astrology

According to B V Raman, “The appearance of Comets and the directions in which they appear should be considered. The country represented by the signs in which Comets appear suffers and the health of the people will be affected.” (vide Hindu Predictive Astrology, page 237).

In Brihat Samhita, an astronomical treatise, Varahamihira indicates that Nature speaks to a human in different ways. To understand Nature’s language, one should know Brihat Samhita. Substantial truth prevails in the Hindu interpretation of nature’s language. For instance, Varahamihira says solar spots are indicative of famine and this statement has been corroborated by actual events.

According to Varahamihira four factors influence the effects of Comets:
1. appearance, disappearance in particular time and places
2. position of the comet
3. heavenly bodies with which the Comet is in conjunction
4. colour of the comet.

The effects will be proportionate to ‘month equivalent’ to the number of days the Comet is visible: if it is visible for a certain number of months, the effect will be for some number of years. To clarify this point, let us say the Comet is visible for six days: the effect will last for six months. If the Comet is visible for three months, the effect will last for three years. If rainfall occurs at the time of appearance of a Comet, humankind will be exceedingly happy.

Varahamihira mentions of the Comet Vara Ketu, with its head towards North and that it appears in the Western horizion. When it appears there will be immediate deaths but at the end there will be prosperity. Kumuda Ketu is a Comet of the colour of white lily. The tail faces East and is visible only at night. When it appears there will be unprecedented happiness for 10 years. A large number of Comets are cited by Varahamihira and most of them are predicated to bring about unpleasant consequences. A popular assumption is that Comets predispose evil consequences only; I have cited a few examples earlier to illustrate that some Comets can have good outcomes as well. However, we need to reckon with Vridha Garga’s remark that happiness arising out of Comets cannot be an unmixed blessing. “Comets never fail to produce evil results”, avers Vridha Garga.

Varahamihira has issued a dooming prediction in Brihat Samhita. Already people are speaking about 2012 with fear and Kalki avatar is doing its rounds in the media. Varahamihira says “A single Comet with three tails and three colours of name Brahmadanda and is the son of Brahma. When it appears, the world will come to an end”. My view on this point is that this Comet could appear sometime at the end of Kaliyuga, coinciding with the appearance of Kalki. It is possible that before the final collapse of the universe, this Comet could appear as a Portent.

The occult side of Halley’s Comet

Canchupati Venkatarao Venkaswamy Rao, better known as Master CVV, was born in Kumbakonam, a famous temple town of southern India on 4 August 1868. He led a life as a normal human and was engaged in business activities. He was fluent in Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil, and English. He was proficient in the Vedas and a musician of high order. He was popular in the town and served as the Mayor of Kumbakonam. He married Rukmini at the age of 12 and had three sons and three daughters. Rukmini died when he was 36, and he married Venkamma at 38, through whom he had three sons and a daughter.

Master CVV carried out supernatural practices during his life and most of them were unknown to the world until 1910. On a night in 1910, at zero hours, a great light made its way into the Master CVV’s house like a lightning. That light related to a Comet, which was in the earth’s orbit during those days. That Comet was the Halley’s Comet. Master CVV explained later to people that during that night, the earth was passing through the tail of the Comet. The beam of light that entered Master CVV’s house in Kumbakonam was during the passage of the Comet. The light that showered down dazzled the eyes of the people, who witnessed the event. It was as though a thunderbolt and a brilliant light fell on Master CVV’s house. Those who observed the light passing through Master CVV’s house ran up to the house looking for any damage. On entry into his house, they found Master CVV in deep meditation. Master CVV explained that the planetary ether, which would be responsible for his future plan of work established co-operation with him that night. From that time, those who saw him and spoke to him felt a distinct magnetic and divine attraction in his presence. He is considered an incarnation of Sage Agastya. He lived a full life of all-round development. He promoted the theory that sound is the key to salvation in the present. He gave out the ancient wisdom of Yoga to modern age in the most suitable manner, embedding therein the energies that descended from higher circles. He died on 12 March1922, as predicted precisely by him. From his life we understand that the appearance of Halley’s Comet is not a mere cosmic phenomenon at a physical level, but one which bears significant spiritual connotations.

Comets as cosmic wild cards

Comets can as best be described as cosmic wild cards as they represent the principle of uncertainty in the cosmic theme of things. Those Comets whose orbit is regular can show themselves at periodic intervals in time . But long period Comets stand on a different footing altogether.

The example of Schrödinger’s cat in Quantum Physics closely resembles the phenomenon of Comets[1]. In this experiment a cat in a closed box could be said to be alive and dead at the same time, until an observer opens the box and seals the cat’s fate. We can always know where a Comet is at a given point in time and by understanding the trajectory of the Comet, we can only guess where it will be after a certain period of time and not pointedly say whether the Comet will either continue to exist or where it will be after some time.

Comets appear to indicate realignment of economic, political and financial affairs in the world. They are indicators of forthcoming events and changes. As the saying goes, “Coming events cast their shadows before”. Here the ‘shadow’ is in the form of a Comet. The philosophical and astrological significance of Comets is yet to be fully understood. Comets, in the universal scheme of things seem to be fully representative of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and continue to be a cosmic riddle for humankind as a whole.


  1. Bohr’s Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics was theoretically proven by what has become a famous thought experiment involving a cat and a box. It’s called Schrödinger’s cat, and it was first introduced by the Viennese physicist Erwin Schrodinger in 1935.In his theoretical experiment, Schrödinger put his cat in a box, along with a bit of radioactive material and a Geiger Counter – a device for detecting radiation. The Geiger counter was designed so that when it sensed the decay of the radioactive material, it triggered a hammer which was poised to break a flask containing hydrocyanic acid, which, when released, would kill the cat.To eliminate any certainty regarding the cat’s fate, the experiment was to take place within an hour, long enough so that some of the radioactive material could possibly decay, but short enough so that it was also possible none would.In Schrödinger’s experiment, the cat was sealed in the box. During its stay there, the cat came to exist in an unknowable state. Since it could not be observed, it could not be said whether the cat was alive or dead. It existed instead in the state of both life and death. It’s sort of like quantum physics’ answer to the old Zen question: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? The Copenhagen interpretation is an attempt to explain the results of the experiments and their mathematical formulations, in terms of quantum mechanics. It was devised by Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and others in the years 1924–27.In the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, a system becomes either one or the other when an observation takes place.. The experiment can be interpreted to mean that while the box is closed, the system simultaneously exists in a superposition of the states “decayed nucleus/dead cat” and “undecayed nucleus/living cat,” and that only when the box is opened and an observation performed does the wave function collapse into one of the two states.In 1957, Hugh Everett formulated the “many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics” which does not single out observation as a special process. In the many-worlds interpretation, both alive and dead states of the cat persist after the box is opened, but are decoherent from each other. In other words, when the box is opened, the observer and the already-split cat split into two – an observer looking at a box with a dead cat, and a second observer looking at a box with a live cat. But since the dead and alive states are decoherent, there is no effective communication or interaction between them.( and they exist in two different universes).When opening the box, the observer becomes entangled with the cat, so two “observer states” one corresponding to the cat’s being alive and another corresponding to the cat’ s being dead are formed; each observer state is entangled or linked with the cat so that the “observation of the cat’s state” and the “cat’s state” correspond with each other..The cat is both alive and dead—regardless of whether the box is opened—but the “alive” and “dead” cats are in different branches of the universe that are equally real but cannot interact with each other.For a detailed understanding of this theory the reader is advised to refer to a standard book on “ Parallel Universes “.For the limited purpose of our discussion on Comets all that we need to understand is that the appearance of comets could be similar to the concepts of Schrodinger’ s cat and Heisenberg’ s Uncertainty principle in Quantum Physics.  ↩