Written by Gary W. Kronk
Published by Cambridge University Press


What is Cometography?

     Cometography is a multi-volume project I have been working on since the mid-1970s. Jump-started by comet Kohoutek of 1973-1974, I began researching comets and immediately found myself becoming more and more intrigued by them. It was fascinating to read about comets that unexpectedly split, brightened, or faded. There were also interesting stories concerning the discovery circumstances of some comets, as well as tales about how comets affected cultures.
     As I continued reading I found that, back in 1967, the International Astronomical Union suggested that an up-to-date descriptive catalog of comets or "cometography" was needed. A committee was formed, but in 1970 it reported, according to the words of Brian Marsden, "that it would be very nice to have a cometography, but that the effort required to produce such a catalog was greater than the members of the committee could devote to it."
     Thus began my inspiration to research and write Cometography, a set of books devoted to presenting the details of every comet seen in recorded history.
     The last complete work of this type was written by Alexander Guy Pingre. His two volumes, called Cometographie, were published in 1783 and 1784, but are now greatly out of date. Not only do they obviously lack the comets seen between 1784 and the present, but much of the original source material has been retranslated over the years, so that Pingre's work is now inaccurate in places. Since the time of Pingre, two other books have been published: Physical Characteristics of Comets, by S. K. Vsekhsvyatskii in 1958, and Comets: A Descriptive Catalog, by myself in 1984. Both of these books brought the 19th and 20th century comets to readers, but in a manner much more highly condensed than that of Pingre. They also only included those comets for which orbits had been computed. The vast portion of Pingre's work included comets for which orbits could not be determined, some of which have since been identified as previous, though poorly observed, appearances of Halley's comet, periodic comet Swift-Tuttle, and periodic comet d'Arrest. Cometography brings back the lesser observed comets, with the intention of providing all necessary details that might help future astronomers establish new comet identity links.
     To aid in the accuracy of Cometography I have tried to avoid Pingre's books and the book of Vsekhsvyatskii. I have gone through hundreds of monastic histories written and published during medieval times, as well as dozens of texts from ancient and medieval Rome, Greece, and China. I have read the diaries of dozens of explorers and significant public figures. I have translated French, German, Latin, and Spanish (with occasional help from friends), and I have had many Chinese passages retranslated when they were conflicting with other sources. All of this work was meant to try and make Cometography as accurate as possible.
     What else does Cometography offer?

     Cometography is a catalog which offers every important descriptive detail on every comet ever recorded by mankind. Today many astronomers are still including references to the works of Pingre, Vsekhsvyatskii, and Kronk. Each authors' comet catalog had their strengths, but none is as complete and up to date as Cometography will be.

Status of Volumes

Volumes one to five are completed and published.

Remaining volumes:

    The final volume, number 6, will cover all comets observed during the period of 1983 through 1993. As with volume five. Maik Meyer, a friend and an avid comet observer and researcher in Germany, will co-author this volume; however, we have also added David A. J. Seargent, another long-time comet observer and writer, as an additional co-author. Most of the research is finished and the manuscript is due at the end of July 2016.