Historic Bright Comets

History has taught us that the most interesting and impressive comets are usually the ones that were not predicted and came ‘out-of-the-blue’. There have been some truly spectacular comets throughout history. Below is a selected list of some notable bright comets through history (in order of brightness by the Ptolemy scale). The only problem with brightness comparison is that comets were not given an apparent magnitude until the 20th century, so a lot of the comets before this time are hard to put in to ranking order with absolute confidence. The estimations however are probably pretty close. Estimations  are shown with an asterisk*

 

Comet Peak Mag. Max. Tail Length First Sighted Visible (Naked Eye)
C/1882 R1 (Great Comet of 1882) -15* 15-20 degrees?* 01 Sep 1882 Sep 1882 – Feb 1883
C/1965 S1 (Ikeya-Seki) -10 35 degrees 18 Sep 1965 Sep-Dec 1965
C/1910 A1 (Great Comet of 1910) -7* 50 degrees 12 Jan 1910 Jan – ? 1910
C/1743 X1 (Great Comet of 1744) -7* unknown (6 tails!) 29 Nov 1743 Nov 1743 – Mar 1744
C/1927 X1 (Skjellerup-Maristanny) -6* unknown 28 Nov 1927 Nov 1927 – ?
C/2006 P1 (McNaught) -5.5 35 degrees 07 Aug 2006 Jan – Mar 2007
C/1975 V1 (West) -3 25 degrees 05 Nov 1975 Nov 1975 – Mar 1976
C/1947 X1 (Southern Comet) -3 25 degrees 07 Dec 1947 Nov – Dec 1947
C/1948 V1 (Eclipse Comet) -1 30 degrees 01 Nov 1948 Nov – Dec 1948
C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp) -0.8 45 degrees 23 Jul 1995 May 1996 – Dec 1997
C/1956 R1 (Arend-Roland) -0.5 15 degrees 08 Nov 1956 Feb – Apr 1956
C/1996 B2 (Hyakutake) 0 80 degrees 31 Jan 1996 Mar – May 1996

A Short Period Comet very worthy of a mention…

Comet Peak Mag in 1986 First Sighted Last Perihelion
Comet 1P/Halley 2.6 239AD* ? Feb 1986

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