International Comet Quarterly

Good General Published References Regarding Comets

Below are listed some recommended general publications on comets that are useful for those who want to learn some basic information about these objects. Some are still in print, but good libraries should contain some or most of the publications listed here. [under construction]

Less advanced (more basic) information, for people less familiar (or unfamiliar) with astronomy:

  • The Mystery of Comets, by F. L. Whipple w/ D. W. E. Green (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985) [though becoming quite dated, has some useful material].
  • The Quest for Comets, by D. H. Levy (New York: Plenum Press, 1994) [one of the best general introductions to comets].
  • Comets, Popular Culture, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology, by S. S. Genuth (Princeton University Press, 1997) [scholarly historical and sociological account of comets, concentrating on the period from the 16th to the 17th centuries, but aimed at non-astronomy audiences; includes a chapter on ancient views of comets; this is the best source for historical information on how people feared comets as portents and signs; to some extent, picks up where Hellmann leaves off (below); packed with primary references]
  • The Comet of 1577: Its Place in the History of Astronomy, by C. D. Hellmann (Columbia University Press, 1944; reprinted in 1971 and possibly still available via AMS Press in New York City) [a scholarly book that concentrates on comets from antiquity up to the end of the 16th century, with much information on medieval European views on comets; many primary references].
  • Gary Kronk's Cometography (see more advanced list, below).

More advanced information (readable by amateur astronomers):

  • Catalogue of Cometary Orbits 1997 (12th edition), published by Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams [definitive catalogue of comets with orbits and of comet designations; new editions every year or two].
  • IAU Circulars and CBETs. One-page circulars and electronic telegrams that officially announce new comet discoveries and names; initial orbital and ephemeris information, as well as amateur observations and more technical professional results, are also publishere on IAUCs [approximately 100 IAUCs and several hundred CBETs issued per year].
  • ICQ Guide to Observing Comets, ed. by D. W. E. Green [probably the most comprehensive basic guide to observing comets that includes all wavelengths; first ed. 1997].
  • Comets and Meteor Streams, by J. G. Porter (New York: John Wiley & Co., 1952) [has outdated general material, but contains excellent introduction to comet orbits and shows how to compute ephemerides].
  • Comets: A Chronological History of Observation, Science, Myth, and Folklore, by D. K. Yeomans (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1991 [a good history of the science of comets from about the time of Isaac Newton until the 20th century; some of this is readable by those unfamiliar with astronomy].
  • Volume 1 of Kronk's new Cometography: A Catalog of Comets, has become available via Cambridge University Press; this first volume covers comets from ancient times up to 1799, and is a good (though not by any means definitive) source of information on older comets. For less serious work, this new volume by Kronk is excellent, but for serious work on comets, one needs also to consult other works such as A. Pingré's 1783 Cométographie (in French) and Johann Holetschek's late-19th-century work from Vienna (in German), as Kronk missed much older information on comets (and missed some comets entirely). [NOTE: Comets: A Descriptive Catalog, by G. W. Kronk (Hillside, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1984, 328 pages) is an earlier version of Kronk's new series; it was a descriptive catalogue of cometary apparitions in history, ending in 1981; has many errors and shortcomings, and is not recommended].
  • Physical Characteristics of Comets, by S. K. Vsekhsvyatskij (Jerusalem: Israel Program for Scientific Translations; and Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Technical Services, NASA TT F-80, OTS 62-11031) [this out-of-print 1964 monograph was a translation from the original Russian-language edition, and it is the most comprehensive catalogue of descriptive, orbital, and brightness information on comets (in a single book) published in the 20th century; the translation has many errors, particularly with names, and the references are not very complete; lists comet apparitions from antiquity to 1957; still a useful source for quick answers, but must be used *very* carefully due to its being saturated with errors; at best a secondary source not to be used in a serious way; all of the information can be found more accurately in other locations, but not in any single publication].

Detailed/technical collections of articles aimed at professional scientists:

  • The Study of Comets, ed. by B. Donn et al. (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, NASA SP-393, 1976, 2 vols.) [until 1982, the most authoritative collection of scientific articles on comets in a single publication -- still highly cited and useful].
  • Comets, ed. by L. Wilkening (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1982, 766 pages) [though becoming dated, a key source detailing scientific knowledge and techniques regarding comets].
  • Comets in the Post-Halley Era, ed. by R. L. Newburn, Jr., et al. (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991, 2 vols.) [in some respects an update of the Wilkening book (above), but more adds to than revises the 1982 book; the title refers to what was learned from the 1986 return to perihelion of comet 1P/Halley (pronounced HAL-ee, and rhymes with "alley")].
  • Physics and Chemistry of Comets, ed. by W. F. Huebner (Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, 1990, 376 pages) [collects the thinking of scientists after the 1P/Halley apparition into a single organized monograph; written for cometary astronomers at a technical level].
  • Hazards Due to Comets and Asteroids, ed. by T. Gehrels (University of Arizona Press, 1994, 1300 pages) [the standard guide that reflects the views of the scientific community on the issues regarding potential impacts of objects such as comets with the earth].

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