"When beggars die there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes."
Before people had telescopes, comets were frightening objects of awe and wonder that seemed to appear out of nowhere, blazed brightly in the sky, then vanished as quickly as they came. Older Than Dirt
, the "falling stars
" mentioned in The Epic of Gilgamesh
were possibly a reference to comets or meteor showers. For thousands (and perhaps tens of thousands) of years, they were seen by civilizations around the world as omens of good and ill, pronouncing the deaths of kings, horrible disasters, and military victories. Western civilizations have generally categorized them as harbingers of evil, but the universal consensus is that when a comet appears, something momentous is happening, enough so that the heavens themselves have taken notice.
In 1705, astronomer Edmund Halley noticed that the comets of 1531, 1607, and 1682 all had the same orbit and period. Suspecting that the three were actually the same comet, Halley predicted not only that it would appear again in 1758, but in what part of the sky, and in what orbit. It appeared exactly when and where he said it would, and Halley's Comet not only acquired a name, but put an end to the thought that a comet was some supernatural envoy of doom.
Be that as it may, comets remain cool
, and they are still used in media as the first, last and only suitable omen for truly world-shaking events. Such as said comet coming straight at you
Subtrope of Portent of Doom
and Bad Moon Rising
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Anime & Manga
- In Space Carrier Blue Noah, the aliens rain down surveillance cameras disguised as meteors onto planet Earth, to scope out whether the planet is worth invading.
- Lifeforce. The arrival of Halley's Comet foretells doom for London, as it contains an alien spaceship that carried space vampires. Discussed, as the characters mention that the appearance of Halley's Comet has been considered a warning of disaster for centuries, possibly because seeing it meant the alien ship within was near enough to allow the vampires to reach Earth and feed.
- Night of the Comet. A comet's trail sweeps across the Earth, reducing almost the entire human race to reddish dust.
- The romantic comedy Wimbledon actually has this: Paul Bettany's character seems to take on l33t tennis skills only while a comet is in the sky. And yes, he wins Wimbledon, because everyone knows it will take the intervention of God for an Englishman to ever win that tournament again.
- In The Brainiac, a comet carries a magician who escaped execution by transporting himself there and who then returns to earth 300 years later as a monster with forked tongue which he uses to suck peoples brains out.
- Dragonheart: A New Beginning features a prophecy where an ancient evil will take hold of the land using a dragon's heart when a two-tailed comet blazes across the sky.
- In Larry Niven's novel Lucifer's Hammer, pieces of a comet slam into the Earth and destroy civilization.
- Ditto the book Comet Dis'aster, a book that incidentally has a lot of terror spread about it.
- As the page quote reveals, a comet appears in the sky after the assassination of Julius Caesar, in Shakespeare's play of the same name.
- In A Clash of Kings, a comet appears in the sky over Westeros, and is taken as any number of omens, both good and ill.
- In Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, the Conqueror Star is a highly visible comet whose coming is said to portend the fall of empires. Given the limited amount of information presented in the story itself, it's hard to say whether it actually has supernatural powers, but its periodicity is certainly very odd.
- The Red Star in Dragonriders of Pern is a captured planet in an elongated (comet-like) orbit. When you can see it in the sky, it means that it's nearby... and has dragged a bunch of frozen organisms from the Oort Cloud to the inner solar system with it. These organisms, upon entering Pern's atmosphere, become the Threads. They eat any organic material they can. Crops, wood, grass, fungi... people...
- In one Animorphs book the characters have traveled to the time of the dinosaurs and see a comet in the sky. Cassie mentions that humans used to believe that comets were a bad omen, and Ax says that Andalites had a similar superstition. Of course, said comet turns out to be the comet that killed the dinosaurs.
- A comet pops up during the siege of a town in Colas Breugnon, and is taken to be a bad omen, though no one can agree on what it is an omen of or to whom it is bad.
- In the Black Company books, a Comet shows up twice in the story and once in the backstory, each time to portend the White Rose coming to battle the forces of the Dominator.
- The very old story, Hector Servadac, has the titular hero and several others accidentally travelling into space on pieces of the Earth ripped away by collision with a comet and having to survive while forming a plan to get back to Earth when the comet returns near it again. Somehow, nobody else on Earth notices anything. Crosses over with Science Marches On.
- A red comet appears in the sky early in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series - unusually, the characters aren't universally filled with dread; several of them decide the comet shows divine favour for their side (Daenerys thinks it's a sign that will lead her khalasar to safety; the Lannisters believe it is a sign of good fortune for their family and especially Joffrey; etc.) At the end of A Feast for Crows it seems to be confirmed that it's a part of the prophecy of the Prince Who Was Promised.
- Also used by Martin in "The Plague Star," one of his "Haviland Tuf" stories (chronologically the first); the recurring "star" is actually a (huge) derelict starship automated to bombard a planet with bioweapons.
If this is found after the plague star has waned, as the night-hunters say it will, do not be deceived. This is no fair world, no world for life. Here is death, and plagues beyond numbering. The plague star will shine again.
- In The Legendsong Saga, the comet appears to be the Earth equivalent of the Unraveller, the sign that the balance between Chaos and Harmony/Song is about to change.
Live Action TV
- In Babylon 5, the Brakiri solar system contains only one comet with a period of 200 years. The comet is considered a death omen (and the focus of the season five episode "Day of the Dead"). As a result, the Brakiri don't even like comets to be mentioned.
- In the television series Beauty and the Beast, a comet was blazing in the sky the night billionaire Elliot Burch is murdered by operatives of his rival, Gabriel. Father marks the occasion by speaking the page quote.
- Doctor Who: In Silver Nemesis there is a comet with a period of 25 years that, according to the Doctor, really does bring misfortune: it's actually an alien superweapon that somehow (ahem) wound up in a solar orbit. He cites the the two World Wars and the assassination of JFK as the results of the last three times it came near Earth.
- Game of Thrones: red comet during Season 2 coincides with birth of dragons and return of Magic.
- In the third episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, "When Knowledge Conquered Fear", Neil Degrasse Tyson explains the origins of this trope and how it was based in superstition and ignorance of how the solar system worked. He goes on to tell an absolutely epic version of how Edmund Halley went about utterly crushing this superstition. It ended with Halley's "prophecy" that not only would one particular comet return in 50 years, but accurately and correctly predicting where in the sky it would appear, and how long it would be visible, and how "Halley's Comet" became the best known comet in the history of the world.
Mythology & Religion
- In a rare example of a comet being a good omen, some scholars believe that the Star of Bethlehem was one. Others discount this because of said stigma of comets being doom omens, instead assuming that the event was an alignment of several stars.
- In the Dungeons & Dragons adventure module X2 Castle Amber, the appearance of a blazing red comet over Averoigne causes an NPC to become a deadly monster.
- "King-Killer Star" of Forgotten Realms. It did cause damage, and turned out to be just a random comet with right period chosen as the trigger condition for a magical device — until the latter was "hacked".
- In the Shadowrun supplements The Year of the Comet and Wake of the Comet, the passing of Halley's Comet in 2061 greatly increased the magic level on Earth, which caused SURGE (Sudden Recessive Gene Expression) mutations in (meta)humans, animals and plants, the re-appearance of the dragon Ghostwalker and natural disasters in the Asia that brought down the Japanese Empire.
- The presence of a twin-tailed comet is often seen as an omen to the people of The Empire, due to the legend that their founder Sigmar's birth was heralded by it's appearance. This is not always seen as a good omen, however, especially to the city of Mordhiem, which was hit by one.
- In the Alliances expansion for Magic: The Gathering, General Varchild saw a comet which she believed meant that she was to conquer the barbarian tribes as a part of a manifest destiny for her people. So she took her army and began the slaughter.
- In Ultima V, each of the Shadowlords has their own comet; if you have a telescope you can determine which city they're in by looking for where the comets are.
- Final Fantasy VII. Though it's technically a meteor, and not so much an omen of The End of the World as We Know It as the cause of it.
- Final Fantasy V also has prophetic falling heavenly bodies, but they are used to help save the world instead of destroy it.
- Super Mario Galaxy has the Prankster comets.
- A random event in Europa Universalis involves a comet or meteor appearing and the superstitious peasants being concerned enough that your country loses stability. Players complained that the event only had one option, so in each major update the devs added a new option...which also reduced stability. Victoria 2 also has a Comet Sighted event, but because it's set in more enlightened times the comet gives you research points instead.
- Illusion of Gaia's entire plot is influenced by a comet that returns every few hundred years. Each visit affects all life on Earth in unexpected ways, although the end results thus far (that tend to linger even until the next visitation) are usually the same (mutations, destroyed civilizations, famine, etc.).
- In the Call of Cthulhu PC adventure game Shadow Of The Comet , the passing of Halley's Comet coincides with some truly creepy stuff going down.
- A comet herald for the arrival of Balor in Myth.
- Gadget: Past as Future. The player has to gather gizmos to build a spaceship before a comet hits some steampunk-ish, 1984-esque eastern European nation.
- In Shadow the Hedgehog, there is the Black Comet. Not an actual comet, however, but a meteoroid that serves as the vessel of Black Doom and his army. Black Doom uses the Chaos Emeralds to teleport it into the atmosphere and start sucking energy out of the planet. Fortunately, it turns out that the space colony A.R.K.'s Eclipse Cannon was created to blow the Black Comet to smithereens. After Shadow teleports it back out into space.
- In Baten Kaitos Origins, Guillo's strongest special attack, Aphelion Dustwake, showers enemies with the ice trail of a comet. It's quite overpowered.
- In Chrono Trigger, the "Red Star" that heralds the end of the dominance of the Reptites and beginning of the ascension of mankind as the dominant species is actually Lavos, and he not only heralds the change, he causes it.
- In Strife, the plot is triggered (some time before the events of the game) by a comet striking the Earth. The last levels reveal that the "comet" was almost certainly The Entity's spaceship crash-landing — probably deliberately.
- Happens at least one time in The Fairly Oddparents. Of course, Timmy has wished for there to be no noise, and he cannot wish away the comet. Until he figures out that he can use charades (conveniently played in the early part of the episode) to wish for sound.
- This happened at least once in Xiaolin Showdown. A comet accompanies a mysterious event that could quite easily cause The End of the World as We Know It.
- Sozin's Comet from Avatar: The Last Airbender : Its arrival meant a major power boost for the already powerful Firebenders and near certain doom for the Earth Kingdom, which Fire Lord Ozai planned to literally burn to the ground using the comet boost). In the backstory, the first arrival of the comet a hundred years ago and the power boost it provided for Fire Lord Sozin and his Firebenders heralded the near-extinction of the Airbenders.
- Comet in Moominlands main plot.
- The Smurfs episode "The Comet Is Coming" is a story where the Smurfs think from a message that was torn in transit written by Papa Smurf that the night of a comet's appearance is their last night of living, and so they make preparations insofar as even creating a rocket that would send Baby Smurf off to another planet.