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Comet Biela
Biela's Comet in February 1846, soon after it split into two pieces.
Discovered by: Wilhelm von Biela
Discovery date: February 27, 1826
Alternate designations: 1772; 1806 I; 1832 III;
1846 II; 1852 III;
1826 D1
Orbital characteristics A
Epoch: September 29, 1852 [1]
Aphelion distance: 6.190 AU
Perihelion distance: 0.8606 AU
Semi-major axis: 3.5253 AU
Eccentricity: 0.7559
Orbital period: 6.619 a
Inclination: 12.550°
Last perihelion: September 24, 1852
Next perihelion: Disintegrated in 1852.

Biela's Comet or Comet Biela (official designation: 3D/Biela) was a periodic comet first recorded in 1772 and identified as periodic in 1826 by Wilhelm von Biela. Subsequently, it was observed to disintegrate and has not been seen since 1852, although remnants survived for some time as a meteor shower.



The comet was first recorded in 1772 by Charles Messier. It was also recorded in 1805 by Jean-Louis Pons, but was not recognized as the same object. It was Wilhelm von Biela who observed it during its 1826 perihelion approach (on February 27) and calculated its orbit, discovering it to be periodic with a period of 6.6 years. It was only the third comet (at the time) known to be periodic, after the famous comets Halley and Encke.


In its 1846 appearance, the comet was observed to have broken up into two pieces. It was observed again in 1852 with the two parts being 1.5 million miles apart.[2] Neither part could be found on their predicted periodic returns in 1859, 1865, and 1872. However, on November 27, 1872, a brilliant meteor shower (3,000 per hour) was observed radiating from the part of the sky where the comet had been expected to cross in September 1872. This was the date when Earth intersected the comet's trajectory. These meteors became known as the Andromedids or "Bielids" and it seems apparent that they indicated the death of the comet. The meteors were seen again on subsequent occasions for the rest of the 19th century, but have now faded away.

Comet 207P/NEAT may be related with comet Biela since it has a similar orbit.[3]

Meteoric impacts

Biela has sometimes been proposed as the source of meteoric impacts on Earth.

A highly speculative theory links together several major fires that occurred in America during 1871, including the Great Chicago Fire and the Peshtigo Fire, claiming that they were caused by fragments of Biela's Comet striking the Earth. The theory was first proposed in 1883 and was revived in 2004.[4] The theory is very controversial.[5]

On November 27, 1885, an iron meteorite fell in northern Mexico, at the same time as a 15,000 per hour outburst of the Andromedid meteor shower. The Mazapil meteorite has sometimes been attributed to the comet, but this idea has been out of favor since the 1950s as the processes of differentiation required to produce an iron body are not believed to occur in comets.

Importance in scientific history of luminiferous aether

Biela's Comet (and Comet Encke) had a role in scientific history in the generally-discredited concept of luminiferous aether: as its orbit perturbed and shortened, the shortening could only be ascribed to the drag of an "ether" through which it orbited in outer space. One reference (see External links) reads:

Encke's comet is found to lose about two days in each sucessive period of 1200 days. Biela's comet, with twice that length of period, loses about one day. That is, the successive returns of these bodies is found to be accelerated by this amount. No other cause for this irregularity has been found but the agency of the supposed ether.


  1. ^ NK 851B — OAA computing section publication
  2. ^ Recreations in Astronomy by Henry White Warren D.D. 1886
  3. ^ IAUC 7635: P/2001 J1
  4. ^ Wood, Robert (February 3, 2004). "Did Biela's Comet Cause the Chicago and Midwest Fires?". American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.  
  5. ^ The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871 — Was it a comet?

External links

Periodic Comets (by number)
Biela's Comet Next
List of periodic comets


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