Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

By Attila Nagy on at

Long-tailed stars and mysterious glowing fireballs from the heavens were among the biggest and most fearful mysteries for stargazing humans throughout history. With the development of astronomy science, comets, meteors, meteorites and shooting stars became familiar objects of our universe, and with the advent of photography, depicting them became more precise. But before that, talented artists created amazing drawings and paintings of these mysterious rocks. The holes in their scientific knowledge were often filled with imagination and superstition, leaving a fascinating pictorial legacy for us to look at today.

These centuries-old images were recently published by the Public Domain Review in a collection called "Flowers of the Sky." It's a stunning glimpse into at a time when comets and meteors delighted and terrified sky-watching humans. Enjoy. [Public Domain Review]

"In 1007 A.D., a wondrous comet appeared. It gave off fire and flames in every direction," wrote Augsburger Wunderzeichenbuch in The Book of Miracles in the 16th century.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Day+Faber


A scene from the Bayeux Tapestry show men staring at Halley’s Comet (c1066), and is the first known picture of the comet.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Myrabella/Wikimedia Commons


"In 1300 A.D., a terrible comet appeared in the sky... and in this year, on St Andrew’s Day, an earthquake shook the ground so that many buildings collapsed." - The Book of Miracles

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Day+Faber


"In 1401 A.D., a big comet with a tail... appeared in the sky in Germany. That was followed by a great, terrible plague in Swabia." - The Book of Miracles

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Day+Faber


The comet of 1456 as it was seen in Germany, fromThe Book of Miracles.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Day+Faber


The Ensisheim Meteorite, a stony meteorite that fell on November 7, 1492, in a wheat field outside of Ensisheim, Austria (now France). Woodcut in Ship of Fools (Daß Narrenschyff ad Narragoniam) by Sebastian Brant, 1494 Switzerland.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: ADS/Harvard


Melencolia I: In Albrecht Dürer's well known engraving a comet or meteor can be seen shooting across the sky, 1514.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: BIBLIOTECA DIGITAL HISPÁNICA


1527: The comet's "head like a bent arm, as if it had a sword in its hand and wanted to strike. And at the point of the sword there were three big stars and from the stars sprang a cloud-coloured stream, which was longer than the comet’s tail." -The Book of Miracles

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Day+Faber


1531: The comet’s tail was "longer than a rice skewer, one and a half feet wide." - The Book of Miracles

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Day+Faber


View of a celestial phenomenon that appeared in Salon in Provence, c1547.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Gallica


A sword as if about to strike, 1560.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Wellcome Library, London


The comet of 1577.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Zentralbibliothek Zürich/Wikimedia Commons


The comet that killed the pegasus, 1665.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image source: Gallica


Comets and shooting stars in Description de l'Univers, by Alain Manesson Mallet, 1685.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Columbia University


A meteor exploded over Catalonia on Christmas Day. Drawing by Joseph Boll, 1704.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Xavier Caballe/Wikimedia Commons


The six-tailed comet of 1744, in Richard Anthony Proctor's book Flowers of the Sky.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: National Archives


The Comet Stern over the observatory of Dr Rehlen in Nuremberg, c1750.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images


The Great Meteor was an unusually bright bolide observed in 1783 from the British Isles, at a time when such phenomena were not well understood.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Wellcome Library, London


The Great Comet of 1811 was visible to the naked eye for around 260 days, and it was the most brilliant comet that appeared in the 19th century.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Newcomb-Engelmanns Populare Astronomie, Verlag Von Wilhelm Engelmann, 1922, Leipzig.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Wellcome Library, London


A German engraving of a comet, c1830.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Hulton Archive/Getty Images


Leonid Meteor Storm, as seen over North America on the night of November 12-13, 1833. From Edmund Weiß's "Bilderatlas der Sternenwelt."

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Wikimedia Commons


The Great Comet of 1843 (also known as the Great March Comet), which developed an extremely long tail.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Newcomb-Engelmanns Populare Astronomie, Verlag Von Wilhelm Engelmann, 1922, Leipzig.


A meteor seen at Paddington, England in 1850.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Wellcome Library, London


The Comet of 1853 as an anthropomorphic comet, with a tail composed of Earth-bound objects.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Wellcome Library, London


Comet Donati, or Donati's Comet, 1858.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Newcomb-Engelmanns Populare Astronomie, Verlag Von Wilhelm Engelmann, 1922, Leipzig.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Wellcome Library, London


Combined image of two meteor shower orbits, August 1862 and November 1866.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Newcomb-Engelmanns Populare Astronomie, Verlag Von Wilhelm Engelmann, 1922, Leipzig.


Drawings of the meteorite fall at Knyahinya (Ukraine) on June 9, 1866.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Wikimedia Commons


The Great Meteor of October 7, 1868.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Wellcome Library, London


The November Meteors, as observed between midnight and 5 AM on the night of November 13, 1868. Amazing artwork from Étienne Léopold Trouvelot's Astronomical Drawings, 1881.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: University of Michigan Library Digital Collections


A bolide over Athens, from Jean Pierre Rambosson's book Astronomy, 1875.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: National Archives


The fall of a bolide at sea, from Astronomy.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: National Archives


The great comet of 1881 (Comet C/1881 K1). Even more amazing artwork from Étienne Léopold Trouvelot's Astronomical Drawings, 1881.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: University of Michigan Library Digital Collections


Halley's comet at dawn, a charcoal drawing by Elizabeth Shippen Green Elliott, 1909.

Stunning Depictions of Ancient Comets That Scared the Hell Out of Humans

Image: Library Of Congress