THE ASTRONOMER ROYAL SIGHTS A COMET!
“ON SUNDAY NIGHT THE 8TH INSTANT, A COMET EQUAL IN LIGHT TO A STAR OF THE FOURTH MAGNITUDE, WITH A LARGE COMA, BUT NO NUCLEUS OR TAIL, WAS OBSERVED AT THE ROYAL OBSERVATORY AT GREENWICH”.
MASKELYNE, NEVIL. (1732-1811). English astronomer. Significant Autograph Letter Signed, “N. Maskelyne”, accompanied by a holograph article for inclusion in the next day’s daily paper penned under Maskelyne’s statement. One page, quarto. Greenwich, December 9, 1805. Fine condition. Addressed in Maskelyne’s hand on integral address leaf to “Mr. Francis Wingrave, Bookseller, Near Exeter Exchange in the Strand”. Triangular wafer seal, with red postal cancellation. Maskelyne writes: “Sir, you may send the following article to some daily paper tomorrow. I hope me sending my paper to Oxford has been stopped. I am, Sir, your most humble servant N. Maskelyne”. The following article reads:
“On Sunday night the 8th instant, a comet equal in light to a star of the fourth magnitude, with a large coma, but no nucleus or tail, was observed at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich pass the meridian at 6.24’.7” mean time, with right ascension 353.6’54” and declination 23.41’.14” South, discovered by Mr. Firminger, the Assistant. The same was discovered by D. Hershel at Slough near Windsor, about the same time. It could not be seen the following evening, tho’ clear; probably having gone to the southward with a quick motion, to carry it into the horizontal vapors, or below the horizon.”
On November 10, 1805, Jean Louis Pons discovered a comet in the constellation of Andromeda that was perceptible in the night sky until December 8, when it disappeared from view. Observing the comet himself on its last day of visibility, Nevil Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, reported his sighting to the local newspaper. The comet was named 3D/Biela in 1826 after Wilhelm von Biela recognized its periodic nature.