Brightest Comets Through History

Making a list of the greatest or brightest comets of all time is a difficult task. With visual brightness aside, some of these comets would have become more popular than others based on a number of factors. This could include their position in the sky, how long their tail became and how long they stayed visible to the naked eye. Therefore, this list is simply in order of apparent magnitude with the brightest at the top. The other difficulty with more historical comets is predicting their brightness. Apparent magnitudes were not used or recorded in comets before the 20th century, so there is plenty of approximation involved. The earlier you go back in time, the more primitive the records are. In ancient times, comets were referred to as gods without records of their position or how long they lasted. From around 1000 BC, more scientific views began to develop around comets and more notice was made of movements.

The list below has been collated with the help of data from the International Comet Quarterly (ICQ) featuring the brightest comets since 1935.

The brightest comets since 1900

DesignationNameApparent Magnitude
C/1965 S1Comet Ikeya–Seki-10
C/1910 A1Great Comet of 1910-7
C/1927 X1Comet Skjellerup-Maristanny-6
C/2006 P1Comet McNaught-5.5
C/1975 V1Comet West-3
C/1947 X1Southern Comet-3
C/1948 V1Eclipse Comet-1
C/1995 O1Comet Hale-Bopp-0.8
C/1956 R1Comet Arend-Roland-0.5
C/2002 V1Comet NEAT-0.5
C/1996 B2Comet Hyakutake0
C/1969 Y1Comet Bennett0
C/1973 E1Comet Kohoutek0
C/1962 C1Comet Seki-Lines0
C/1998 J1Comet SOHO0.5
C/1957 P1Comet Mrkos1
C/1998 J1Comet White-Ortiz-Bolelli1
C/1983 H1Comet IRAS-Araki-Alcock1.7
C/1941 B2Comet de Kock-Paraskevopoulos2
C/2002 T7Comet LINEAR2.2
C/1982 U1Halley's Comet2.4
17PComet Holmes2.4
C/2000 WM_1Comet LINEAR2.5
C/1964 N1Comet Ikeya2.7
C/2001 Q4Comet NEAT2.8
C/1989 W1Comet Aarseth-Brewington2.8
C/1962 A1Comet Ikeya2.8
153P C/2002 C1Comet Ikeya-Zhang2.9
C/2001 A2Comet LINEAR3
C/1936 K1Comet Peltier3.3
C/2004 F4Comet Bradfield3.3
C/2004 Q2Comet Machholz3.5
C/1942 X1Comet Whipple-Fedtke-Tevzadze3.5
C/1940 R2Comet Cunningham3.5
C/1939 H1Comet Jurlof-Achmarof-Hassel3.5
C/1959 Y1Comet Burnham3.5
C/1969 T1Comet Tago-Sato-Kosaka3.5
C/1980 Y1Comet Bradfield3.5
C/1961 O1Comet Wilson-Hubbard3.5
C/1955 L1Comet Mrkos3.5
C/1990 K1Comet Levy3.6
C/1975 N1Comet Kobayashi-Berger-Milon3.7
C/1974 C1Comet Bradfield3.9
C/1937 N1Comet Finsler3.9

Below is a list of brighter comets recorded before 20th century. As said before, the magnitude figures are  approximated but many of these great comets are well documented and are definitely worth the mention.


Bright comets before the 20th century

DesignationNameApparent Magnitude
X/1106 C1Great Comet of 1106-?
C/1882 R1Great Comet of 1882-15
C/1843 D1Great Comet of 1843-?
C/1680 V1Great Comet of 1680-?
C/1743 X1Great Comet of 1744-7