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].
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].