Halley’s Comet, Mark Twain, Rainbows, and the End of the World

I was excited to see a clip entitled “History Repeats Itself”** from the collaborative show HitRecord. Its a snarky clip relating some of the major scares about the end of the world over the centuries, and human superstition and gullibility… I had forgotten about the Y2K hype…

In the video, there is a claim made that Sir Isaac Newton included indigo in the spectrum, based off of the old 666 superstition (apparently he didn’t want 6 to get the glory here, so he added this superfluous color to get a total of 7 colors). I found this odd, and looking into it, I discovered that originally, Newton had included only five colors, later adding orange and indigo to his somewhat arbitrary spectrum. The number seven carries with it rich symbolism which would have appealed to Newton – 7 days of creation (religious symbolism), 7 notes in an octave (musical and harmonious symbolism). This is why ultimately we were all made to memorize this in middle school: Roy G Biv.  I don’t know if there’s any basis to the 666-indigo claim, but if there is, I couldn’t find it.

The other thing that caught my fancy was the mention of Halley’s Comet. Mark Twain was born shortly after the comet visibly passed earth in November, 1835, and died the day after its closest approach to earth in April, 1910. Twain is quoted as having said in 1909:

“I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.”

**Warning: you should probably get in your cup o’ joe before you attempt to keep up with the commentary in this video.


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