Monday, May 11, 2015

The Funnies - The Comet (1910)

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, May 1910

Halley's Comet visited our solar system in early 1910 and, like many comets, it visited fear upon the earth. In February astronomers had an opportunity to take a look at the composition of Halley's Comet using the recently developed technique of spectroscopy. A look at the comet's tail revealed the chemical thumbprint of cyanogen, a substance commonly known as cyanide. 

After astronomers announced their findings, and that the Earth would pass through Halley's tail on May 19, 1910, the New York Times ran a story which featured commentary by French astronomer Camille Flammarion in which he claimed that the cyanogen in Halley's tail “would impregnate the atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet.”

Panic ensued and in spite of the scientific community's assurances no cyanide would penetrate the Earth's atmosphere people rushed out to buy gas masks and "comet pills" for protection. It took six hours for the planet to pass through the interstellar wake of the comet. Nobody was poisoned or even got sick and we're left with the comic strip above as a memento.

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