We knew it would be good but it was really quite special, our talk from ASE member Prof. Randall Stevenson on Comet Tales: Thomas Hardy, Literature and Astronomy, 1850 to the Twentieth Century.

The intersection between the arts and science is always an interesting place. The quotes from the newspapers set it firmly in history and made it all come to life. There we also some cleverly chosen quotes from Hardy’s novels that helped to capture the essence of the topic, even if you hadn’t read them. The images he chose were really atmospheric, capturing the sense of how epic these comets actually were. Links to Charles Piazzi Smyth and Sir James Jeans were also particularly effective for us, especially as we celebrated Piazzi Smyth’s bicentenary a couple of years ago, and Jeans was also the first recipient of our Lorimer Medal in 1936.

“to set the emotional history of two infinitesimal lives against the stupendous background of the stellar universe, and to impart to readers the sentiment that of these contrasting magnitudes the smaller might be greater to them as men”
Thomas Hardy, Two on a Tower

We had a large, international and very engaged audience on our YouTube channel with lots of interesting chat. Mr Comet himself, David H. Levy also turned up and commented: “This is a priceless hour for me. It touched on the subject of literature, comets, and the night sky which is by far my favourite subject!” and “Wonderful, inspiring lecture. Comet at Yell Ham especially moving.”

Other comments:

“I knew this lecture was going to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be so good. Thank you prof. Randall”

“My first time. Won’t be my last. Thanks so much.”

And a little mention of “Comet in Moominland”!

All in all a fantastic talk and evening.

It bends far over Yell’ham Plain,
And we, from Yell’ham Height,
Stand and regard its fiery train,
So soon to swim from sight.

It will return long years hence, when
As now its strange swift shine
Will fall on Yell’ham; but not then
On that sweet form of thine.

The Comet at Valbury or Yell’ham
By Thomas Hardy