COMET C/1874 H1 (COGGIA; O.S. 1874 III)

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    David Strange

    An excellent talk from the Northumberland Dark Sky Festival Week:

    From Gateshead to Galaxies: The peculiar history of a Geordie Telescope  by Dave Newton 

    An excellent talk about the RS Newall’s 25-inch refractor at Gateshead. Reputedly, the largest telescope in the world at that time. It appears that Norman Lockyer was a great fan of this instrument and made several 7hr rail journeys up to Gateshead to use it. RS Newall was a wealthy industrialist who had made his money producing wire ropes and undersea telegraph cables. 

    Following this talk and checking the Nature references I came across these articles all appearing in the 1874 edition of Nature describing the appearance of this Great Comet and some of Lockyer’s observations of it.   

    Discovered April 17th 1874  by H. Coggia in Marseilles. It developed a tail 43.5 degrees in length  25,000,000 miles in length. Period 10,445 years. 

    From The Bright Comet Chronicles by John Bortle: COMET C/1874 H1 (COGGIA; O.S. 1874 III). Visible to the naked eye from the beginning of June until the end of Aug.; T = 1874 July 9. For many weeks following discovery almost stationary in Camelopardalis. In mid-June, about fifth magnitude. By the end of the month, third magnitude. In July, began to move rapidly southward. At that time, the comet was in conjunction with the sun but far north of it in Lynx and visible all night On July 6th, of second magnitude with a 10-degree tail. On the 13th, brighter than nearby Capella and displaying a 20- to 30-degree tail. By July 18, comet’s head was lost in twilight, but a 48-degree tail observed. Two nights later, tail up to 63 degrees long. Comet passed between the earth and sun on July 20. Thereafter, visible only from the Southern Hemisphere. Passed near Procyon on July 23 — head similar in magnitude. At the end of July, a second-magnitude object to the southeast of Sirius. In mid-August, situated not far from Canopus and of fourth or fifth magnitude. 

    Lockyer’s drawing of Comet Coggia on July 12th 1874: 

    Lockyer’s article to the Times, describing “his poor and tiresome description of the magnificent and truly wonderful sight presented to me…” through the 25” Newall refractor: 

    Second part: 

    His observations through his own 6.25” refractor on June 25th 1874:

     It would appear that Comet Coggia reached about magnitude 1-2. It showed much structure in the nuclear region similar to our own views of Hale Bopp. It would certainly have received as much public attention as Neowise did for us this past summer.

    Even though it was that bright you do feel sorry for those old Victorian astronomers. When trying to photograph the comet through the 25″  Lockyer writes: “A photograph exposed for ten minutes gave no results!”



    Nick James

    Yes, the first comet photos, by  Underwood and Bond, were of C/1858 L1 (Donati) in 1858. With the help of Mike Maunder we estimated that these would have been taken using Collodion plates that had a sensitivity of around 0.05 to 0.1 ISO . By the time of Lockyer’s attempts in 1874 he would have been using gelatine plates with a sensitivity of maybe 0.2 ISO. No wonder it was so hard to photograph a comet but even then people knew to use short, fast lenses. Did Lockyer try any photography using a portrait lens? Eight years later, in 1882, Gill got his famous photo of C/1882 R1 which led to the Cart du Ciel project.

    David Strange

    I think Norman Lockyer’s son Jim was more of a photographer than himself. The NLO were recently given his 1898 Kodak portrait camera (bellows camera with roll film) which he used to take meticulous photos all mounted and dated in his albums. We now have six or seven of these which are a magnificent record of the social life of an astronomer of the day! There is a whole album devoted to the 1927 NLO Solar Eclipse trip to Richmond, Yorkshire  where they set up their campsite at the Oliver Duckett mound:


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