The history of
of the Subject
Falls in Wales
See the separate pages about eclipses and meteorite falls for
details of those historic events:
The Great Comet of 1106
A brilliant comet appeared in February 1106 A.D., first being seen
very close to the Sun in the daytime sky, later being visible
in the night sky after sunset when it had a long tail .
The comet was observed from the beginning
of February through to mid-March. Records of observations come
from the Far East and from Europe, including a brief note in
the ancient Welsh
manuscript known as the Brut y Tywysogion (the
Chronicle of the Princes).
The account in the Brut reads:
Yn y vlwydyn honno y gwelat seren anryued y gwelet yn anuon
paladyr oheuni yn ol y chefyn ac o prafter colofyn y veint a
diruawr oleuat idaw, yn darogan yr hyn a vei rac llaw:
kanys Henri, amherawdyr Rufein, gwedy diruawryon vudugolyaetheu
a chrefudussaf vched y Grist a orffowyssawd. A'e vab ynteu,
wedy cael eistedua amherodraeth Rufein, a wnaethpwyt yn amherawdyr.
This translates into English as:
In that year there was seen a star wonderful to behold,
throwing out behind it a beam of light of the thickness
of a pillar in size and of exceeding brightness, foreboding what
would come to pass in the future: for Henry, emperor of Rome,
after mighty victories and a most pious life in Christ,
went to his rest. And his son, after winning the seat of the
empire of Rome, was made emperor.
The source of these quotes is the edited version of the
Chronicles by Thomas Jones,
Brut y Tywysogyon, or, the Chronicle of the Princes: Red Book of
Hergest version, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1955.
The original Welsh text is given first, followed by the
translation into English provided by Thomas Jones.
The dates quoted in square brackets are those quoted by Thomas Jones.
The Great Comet of 1402
According to Silas Evans in
Chapter 24 of Seryddiaeth a Seryddwyr,
the comet of 1402 was described in a poem by Iolo Goch.
Iolo interpreted it as an omen foretelling success for
Prince Owain Glyndwr in his war to restore Welsh independence.
These predictions were later referred to by Shakespeare in
King Henry the Fourth, Part I, Act III, Scene I
(though he incorrectly
associated it with Glyndwr's birth).
However, this is at odds with the account in the
Dictionary of Welsh Biography, which states that
the last ode by Iolo to Glyndwr was written not much
later than 1386.
The story is worthy of further investigation.
Observations of the regular returns of Comet Halley exist in records
from the Far East and from Europe covering well over two thousand years.
I have failed, however, to find any reference to Comet Halley in
Brut y Tywysogion (which covers the period leading up to the
early fourteenth century).
The earliest recorded observations of the Comet from Wales that I know
of are those by Sir William Lower in 1607. He observed it with his
naked eye regularly between 17th September and 6th October (it was
another couple of years or so before he obtained his first telescope).
He measured the Comet's position in relation to the stars using a
cross-staff. The observations are described in letters to his friend
Thomas Harriot. See the page devoted to
Sir William Lower for further information.
The Comet's path at the 1835 return was predicted in advance
by John William Thomas ("Arfonwyson"). It was these predictions
that led to his appointment in the computing department of the
The Comet was observed from Wales at the time of the 1910
return. It was described in the Cambrian Natural Observer,
a journal reporting astronomical, meterorological and nature
observations published by the Astronomical Society of Wales.
Hind's Comet of 1847
John Russell Hind (1823-1895) discovered a faint comet from London
in early February 1847. The comet rapidly brightened as it moved
closer to the Sun. It became brilliant towards the end of that
Hind himself observed it in broad daylight through a telescope
on 30th March, lying close to the Sun in the sky.[1,2,3]
The comet was also
observed in daylight that day by observers in Truro and
Ynys Môn :
Hind noted that "It appears to have been seen about noon, by a
clergyman residing in the Isle of Anglesey."
Nothing is said about who the clergyman was.
 W. T. Lynn, The Observatory, vol. 19, p. 89, 1896.
 J. R. Hind, Astronomische Nachrichten, vol. 25,
no. 597, p.331, 1847.
 J. R. Hind, Monthly Notices of the R.A.S., vol. 7, p. 256, 1847.
Donati's Comet of 1858
Comet Donati (1858 VI) became one of the most spectacular comets of
the nineteenth century. It is particularly remembered for its
very long curved dust tail and two shorter ion tails.
It was discovered by Giovanni Battista Donati from Florence
on 2nd June, 1858, when it was magnitude 7.5. It brightened very
slowly at first, but eventually
reached naked-eye visibility in late August. It brightened
further during September and developed an impressive tail.
The comet brightened further after perihelion, developing a long, broad,
curved tail that eventually exceeded 60 degrees in length in early
October. The comet faded rapidly, and was lost from naked-eye
view on 8th November. It continued to be observed through
telescopes until 4th March, 1859.
The magazine Y Brython, published in Tremadog, described the
comet in late September, about a week before perihelion, when it was
still brightening. Its description included the following:
... Y mae tair comed
i'w canfod y dyddiau hyn yng nghymydogaeth ein cyfundrefn
blanedawl ni, sef y Donati, Encke a Faye; ond nid yw ond y Donati
yn ganfyddadwy â'r llygaid noeth, a hon ydyw yr un sydd yn awr yn
tynu gymmaint o sylw y dyddiau hyn. Y mae y Donati i'w chanfod yn
yr hwyr yn y gogledd-orllewin. Y boreu, os bydd yn glir, ydyw yr
amser goreu i'w gweled hi. Y mae y gomed hon wedi bod dan sylw am
ddim llai na thri mis, ond ni ddaeth yn weledig i'r llygad noeth
hyd o fewn pythefnos yn ol, a pharha yn weledig hyd ddiwedd y mis
hwn, gan gynnyddu mewn dysglaerdeb, a meddiannu yr unrhyw sefyllfa
berthynasol, yna dechreua ddiflanu yn raddol hyd nes y bydd wedi
cwbl golli o'r golwg. Y mae ei phen yn ymddangos o faint seren o'r
ail faintioli, a'i chynffon, yr hon sydd braidd yn wan ac yn
pwyntio i'r gogledd yn bump o raddau o hyd...
[This translates as:
... Three comets can be seen these days in the neighbourhood of our
planetary system, namely Donati, Encke and Faye; but only Donati
is seen with the naked eye, and this is the one that draws
so much attention these days. Donati can be seen late on in the
northwest. The morning, if it is clear, is the best time to see it.
This comet has been in view for no less than three months, but it
only became visible to the naked eye a fortnight ago, and will
remain visible until the end of this month, increasing in brightness,
and in reach of any relevant observatory,
then it will begin to disappear gradually until it will be lost
from view totally. Its head appears as a star of the second
magnitude, and its tail, which is somewhat faint and points to the
north is five degrees in length...
"Y Brython", vol. 1, no. 14, 24th September, 1858.
(A scanned copy is available at the
Digital Mirror of
the National Library of Wales.)
G. W. Kronk, Comets: A Descriptive Catalog, publ. Enslow Publishers,
Inc., New Jersey, 1984.
Leonid meteor storms
There are some references in Welsh journals to the storms produced
by the Leonid meteor shower in 1833 and 1866. The 1966 storm
ocurred too late to be seen from Wales (it was visible
during darkness from the Americas). Wales was covered with cloud
in the early hours of 18th November 1999, when observers
elsewhere observed a mini-storm.
In his book Who's Who in Wales, First Edition (published
by the Western Mail, Cardiff, 1921), Arthur Mee referred
to an observation of the 1833 Leonid meteor storm. In the
biographical entry for James Williams (page 513), he wrote that
... greatly interested in astronomy, meteorology and gardening;
these talents he inherits from his father, who died in 1897,
and who, as a youth, witnessed the great star-shower of
Nov., 1833, which he observed when alone on the Black Mountain
Arthur Mee did discuss contemporary press reports of the 1866
Leonid meteor storm in an article in the
Cambrian Natural Observer (vol. 2, pp. 81-84, 1900)
around the time of the
predicted storm of 1899 (which did not materialise).
THE 1866 DISPLAY
Mr. Mee, writing in the "Mail"
[the Western Mail newspaper],
says:- It struck me that your readers might like some local reference
to the great shower of 1866. On applying at our Cardiff Free Library,
I found that they had a file of the "Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian"
and of the "Cardiff Times," but not of the "Cambrian" for that year,
in which last paper I quite expected to find an intelligent account
of the display. The other journals gave the matter little more than
passing notice, though both used highly poetical expressions
which demonstrate the effect the glorious apparition had upon
the unimpressionable heart of the local scribe. A "wholesale
sensational cascade" is the tribute of the "Guardian," whilst
its contemporary says picturesquely that "there were times when
it seemed as if a mighty wind had caught the old stars, loosed
them from their holdings, and swept them across the firmament."
No local observer contributed an account of the shower. Thirty-three
years' interval has given us all a keener interest in the
great book of Nature."
The London "Times," of course, gave some space to the 1866 display,
and it was very interesting to read an account from the pen of
Mr. G. J. Symons, the meteorologist, who is still living and
active. Mr. Symons states that the maximum occurred at 1.12 on
the morning of the 14th, at which time the meteors numbered
a hundred a minute. Altogether, some seven or eight thousand
meteors were visible.
(Dr. Franklen Evans has since informed us that he observed the
1866 display, and described his observations in the local press.)
Transits of Mercury and Venus
Transits of Mercury across the Sun are rather rare, with only
14 having occurred worldwide during the twentieth
Only some of these would
have been visible from any single place on the Earth.
The 10th November, 1927, transit of Mercury,
for example, was observed from Ceredigion. John R. Owen of
Llanrhystud, near Aberystwyth, wrote of how he observed the
transit shortly after sunrise that morning. He used a telescope
with a solar filter to observe the Sun as it rose into a perfectly
clear sky. Two large sunspots were visible before the Sun had
fully risen. As more of the disc of the Sun came above the horizon,
John Owen saw Mercury as a small, black spot against the bright
background of the solar surface. He followed the planet as it
moved across the Sun's disc over the course of the next few hours.
Transits of Venus are extremely rare: only six have been
observed worldwide since the invention of the telescope.
Apart from the event of 8th June, 2004, the last
occurred on 6th December, 1882. The beginning was visible from western
Europe, but sunset occurred relatively soon after the transit began.
The weather across the British Isles was generally poor for the event.
A survey by Samuel J. Johnson of Dorset found that Wales
suffered significant cloud but that conditions were not so poor
along the South Wales coast.
William Evans (1828-1904) only glimpsed the transit briefly
through breaks in the cloud from Llanerchymedd, Ynys Môn.
Johnson's correspondent in Cardiff reported observing the eclipse
despite some disruption from a "rough wind", while an observer with
better conditions at
Barmouth noted that Venus showed "no trace of atmosphere" and
found "Venus brighter at the centre than at the circumference".
Arthur Mee, then aged 22 years, observed the December 1882 transit
from Llanelli with a small refractor. He described the event in 1908:
I had then a little telescope with an object glass 2 1/4 inches
in diameter, and projected the image on a piece of cardboard to
the satisfaction of a number of friends. It will always be a
pleasure to me to know
that I saw the transit, and I only wish I could have seen it in
after years with a more powerful instrument. My friend, Mr. S. Harries,
LL.B., now of Swansea, observed the transit with a 5-inch
reflector, and wrote a most interesting account of the occurrence.
The 9th December, 1874, transit of Venus was not visible from western Europe.
Only the beginning of the 3rd June, 1769, transit was visible from
western Europe, shortly before sunset.
Joseph Harris observed the transit of 6th June, 1761, from
Trefecca near Brecon: the transit would have been seen that morning
immediately after sunrise.
 J. Meeus, Astronomical Tables of the Sun, Moon and Planets,
publ. Willmann-Bell, Inc., Richmond, Virginia, 1983.
 F. Espenak, Transits of Mercury: Seven Century Catalog: 1601 CE to
2300 CE, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center,
 J. R. Owen. Quoted in Y Gwyddonydd, vol 16, no. 1, pp. 32-36,
 S. J. Johnson, The Observatory, vol. 10, p. 302, 1887.
 A. B. P. Mee, Cambrian Natural Observer, vol. 10 (new series),
no. 2, pp. 12-17, January 1908.
I have found no record of the historic Galactic supernovae
of the years 1006 and 1054 in the Brut y Tywysogion.
These two supernovae were recorded in Far Eastern annals, but are absent
from European records. In this respect, the Brut follows
other European annals.
Bryn Jones thanks Rhys Morris for providing the information about
John R. Owen, and to the late Jay Stinson of California for discussions
about the 15th century comet.