Oct
17
2011

Did the Earth Have a Near-Miss with a Fragmenting Comet in August, 1883?

.Jose A. y Bonilla's 1883 photgraph
Jose A. y Bonilla's 1883 photgraphCourtesy Wikimedia

In August, 1883, Mexican astronomer Jose A. y Bonilla observed several objects passing in front of the solar disc. These objects were reported as being surrounded by a mist, looked dark against the solar disc, but bright outside of the disc. He took a photograph and published his findings in the magazine L'Astronomie in 1886. This photograph has had many interpretations, ranging from a flock of birds passing between the observer and the sun to the first photographic documentation of a UFO.

Recently, researchers from the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico have come up with an alternate explanation. Hector Javier Durand Manterola, Maria de la Paz Ramos Lara, and Guadalupe Cordero hypothesize that what Bonilla observed in 1883 was a highly fragmented comet, in an approach almost flush to the surface of the Earth. According to their calculations, the distance from the Earth's surface to the objects was between 538 km (334.3 miles) and 8,062 km (5009.5 miles), and the mass of the object before fragmentation was between 0.002 and 8.19 times the mass of Halley's Comet. Fragmentation of comets has been observed recently, as in the case of the comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, which fragmented in 1995/1996, 2001, and 2006, as shown here.Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (2006)
Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (2006)Courtesy NASA
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However, the report's claims have been questioned. A comet breaking up so close to earth should have resulted in a meteor shower, and no astronomers detected one.

Report: Interpretation of the observations made in 1883 in Zacatecas (Mexico): A fragmented Comet that nearly hits the Earth

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Michael's picture
Michael says:

Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, is very doubtful as to the validity of this claim. Some of the comments to his blogpost are quite interesting, especially #28 from Salul.

Another interesting blogpost can be found on the SatTrackCam Leiden blog.

posted on Tue, 10/18/2011 - 12:38pm
Iris's picture
Iris says:

It wouldn't surprise me if we are having more near misses than what we are actually told about. This is probably a normal occurrence. I mean how can there not be because of all the junk floating around in space.

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posted on Wed, 10/19/2011 - 7:45am

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