Where there’s fear, there are people willing to take advantage of it for their own gain.
Hundreds of years ago, comets could be a terrifying phenomenon. It looked like the sky was falling, so it’s not surprising that people have long interpreted them as harbingers of doom.
1910 was the first year that people really knew to expect the comet and could convey that to a larger global population. There were still people who remembered seeing it in 1834.
But we still didn’t entirely understand the nature of comets, so people were more susceptible to rumors about their dangers. While they’re all false, some researchers and commentators were happy to propagate rumors that Halley’s Comet had a tail made of a toxic substance that would contaminate the earth.
It was visible to the naked eye beginning on April 15th disappearing on July 5th. But some people weren’t excited to catch a glimpse because they thought it would bring about the end of the world.
The warning from a handful of scientists was rooted in real concerns. It was a close pass, and a previous comet (named Morehouse) had just been studied closely, and scientists found the fail emitted a toxic gas called cyanogen. But that’s no reason to blow it up into a rumor that a high-speed comet full of poison was headed straight for earth.
Famous scientists were asked to debunk the rumor but had a hard time admitting it was entirely impossible (which people needed to hear in order to chill out). Of course, the press coverage of cherry-picked remarks only made the story bigger and the fear worse.
Reactions ranged from hysteria to people selling all of their possessions to others drinking themselves to death in preparation for the end of the world. Some people caulked their windows and did their best to seal every hole in their homes to prevent the entrance of the supposed toxic gas.
In the panic, some charlatans decided to sell an easy cure in the form of a pill. Of course, it was a sugar pill and had no medicinal value, but they failed to mention that part. There was also an anti-Halley’s comet elixir. It’s unclear how much money people make from these quack remedies for problems that didn’t exist but clearly enough to pay for advertising space.
In the end, Halley’s comet passed without incident – and it was barely visible in the night sky. – WTF fun fact
Source: “Halley’s Comet, Covid-19, and the history of ‘miracle’ anti-comet remedies” — Discover Magazine