"one of a class of celestial bodies which move about the sun in great, elliptical orbits," c. 1200, from Old French comete (12c., Modern French comète), from Latin cometa, from Greek (aster) komētēs, literally "long-haired (star)," from komē "hair of the head" (compare koman "let the hair grow long"), which is of unknown origin. So called from resemblance of a comet's tail to streaming hair.
Visible only when near the sun, they were anciently regarded as omens of ruin, pestilence, and the overthrow of kingdoms. Halley in 1682 established the fact that many were periodic. Comet-wine (1833), that made in any year in which notable comets have been seen, was reputed to have a superior flavor (the original reference is to the Great Comet of 1811). Related: Cometary; cometic; cometical.
Their sudden appearance in the heavens, and the imposing and astonishing aspect which they present, have, even in recent times, inspired alarm and terror. One however—the splendid comet of 1811—escaped somewhat of the general odium; for as it was supposed to be an agent concerned in the remarkably beautiful autumn of that year, and was also associated with the abundant and superior yield of the continental vineyards, the wine of that season was called the comet wine. [The Leisure Hour, April 15, 1852]
Beware of wine named after noted vintages long passed, which is generally a clap-trap, the genuine wines being all before secured for years in private stocks. If "comet wine," or any other noted vintage, be offered, decline it, and nine times out of ten you escape an imposition. [Cyrus Redding, "Every Man His Own Butler," London, 1852]
by 1801 in reference to a catalogue of about 100 nebulae, star clusters and galaxies begun in 1758 by French astronomer and comet-hunter Charles Messier (1730-1817), who was deceived in his telescopic searches by fuzzy objects that resembled distant comets but turned out to be fixed.
What caused me to undertake the catalog was the nebula I discovered above the southern horn of Taurus on September 12, 1758, whilst observing the comet of that year. This nebula had such a resemblance to a comet in its form and brightness that I endeavored to find others, so that astronomers would no more confuse these same nebulae with comets just beginning to appear. [Messier, 1800]
The first version of the catalogue was published 1771, and the fuller version in 1781.
"nebulous, hair-like envelope surrounding the head of a comet," 1765, from Latin coma, from Greek komē "hair of the head," which is of unknown origin. Earlier in English as a botanical term for a tuft of hairs (1660s). For the constellation Coma Berenices, see Berenice. Related: Comal.
"make an approximate calculation by inferring unknown values from trends in the known data," 1862 (in a Harvard observatory account of the comet of 1858), from extra- + ending from interpolate. Said in early references to be a characteristic word of Sir George Airy (1801-1892), English mathematician and astronomer. Related: Extrapolated; extrapolating.
late 14c., "the eye-socket, the bony cavity of the skull which contains the eye," from Old French orbite or directly from Medieval Latin orbita, a transferred use of Latin orbita "wheel track, beaten path, rut, course" (see orb). The astronomical sense of "circular or elliptical path of a planet or comet" (recorded in English from 1690s; later also of artificial satellites) was in classical Latin and was revived in Gerard of Cremona's translation of Avicenna. The Old English word for "eye socket" was eaghring.
As a noun, "non-existent place," 1831; "remote or inaccessible place," 1908. Hence such phrases as middle of nowhere (by 1848, seemingly originally a place you knocked someone or something into; see below), road to nowhere (by 1800 as "a way that is not a thoroughfare, a road leading to no destination;" the figurative use, "a program, course of action, etc. deemed likely to lead to no useful result," is by 1891).
Similar constructions were attempted with nowhat ("not at all," 1650s) and nowhen ("at no time, never," 1764), but they failed to take hold and remain nonce words. Middle English also had an adverb never-where (early 14c.).
THE COMET IS COMING.--The appearance of the great comet that is expected to knock all creation into the middle of nowhere about the 16th of June, has been indefinitely postponed on account of the great gift sale at 96 Third street, where every purchaser of 25 cents' worth of liniment receives a free gift as soon as the purchase is made .... [announcement in Louisville Daily Courier, Louisville, Kentucky, May 28, 1857]
1704, "kernel of a nut;" 1708, "head of a comet;" from Latin nucleus "kernel," from nucula "little nut," diminutive of nux (genitive nucis) "nut," from PIE *kneu- "nut" (source also of Middle Irish cnu, Welsh cneuen, Middle Breton knoen "nut," Old Norse hnot, Old English hnutu "nut").
The general sense of "central mass or thing, about which others cluster or matter collects," is from 1762. In biology, "dense, typically rounded structure in a cell, bounded by membranes," from 1831. Later they were found to contain the genetic material. Modern meaning in physics, "positively charged central core of an atom," is from 1912, by Ernest Rutherford, though theoretical use for "central point of an atom" is from 1844, in Faraday.