The Apocalypse of 1910

By Anupum Pant

Halley’s Comet is a short-period comet and is visible from Earth every 75–76 years.In fact it is the only short-period comet that can be viewed without any telescopes from the surface of earth.Since it comes close every 75-76 years, a human can either see it only once or twice in their life time (or zero times, for really un lucky people).It last appeared in 1986 and is set to come back in the year 2061. Before 1986, it was going to enter the inner solar system in the year 1910. That was when it created a great turmoil among mankind.

Back in 1910 when it was predicted that Haley’s comet would pass very close to the earth, it was a matter of concern for everyone who read this in the newspaper. Later, astronomers realized that the 25 million kilometre trail of the comet would be passed by the earth. That was apparently too dangerous.

Using spectroscopy, Yerkes Observatory reported that the comet’s trail contained a lethal gas called cyanogen. New York times and other popular newspapers created headlines that suggested, humans would have to deal with this deadly gas when earth passes through the trail of Haley’s comet. An apocalypse was, sort of, predicted. Scientists tried to quell this unfounded fear among the people, but like always, it wasn’t really effective.

People rushed to buy gas masks to protect themselves from this deadly gas. Even “comet pills” were sold in abundance.  As smithsonian puts it…

people in Georgia were preparing safe rooms and covering even keyholes with paper. (One man, the paper said, had “armed himself with a gallon of whiskey” and requested that friends lower him to the bottom of a dry well, 40 feet deep.)

comet pillsObviously, nothing of that sort happened. And it was just one of those notable apocalypse predictions that never happened. Though it was interesting that people were convinced enough to buy “comet pills” – I never knew these things even existed.

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