Below is the online edition of *In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood*,
by Dr. Walt Brown. Copyright © Center for Scientific Creation. All rights reserved.

Click here to order the hardbound 8th edition (2008) and other materials.

**"The Origin of Comets"** on pages 289–322 explains why rocks and water launched by the fountains of the great deep soon merged in space to form comets. Consider what we could learn if each comet’s fairly constant—almost clocklike—orbital period around the Sun never changed. We could project each comet back beyond its earliest recorded sighting and find the date when all comets passed simultaneously near the Earth. That would provide an astronomical fix for the date of the flood.

However, planets gravitationally perturb comets,^{1} changing their periods, usually slightly, although large perturbations can happen when a comet passes very near a planet. For example, forty-five consecutive orbits of comet Halley, go back to 15 October 1403 B.C., when its period was 69.86 years. The change in period, from one orbit to the next, was usually less than 1.5 years, and no change was greater than 2.8 years. Can we accurately estimate past positions of some clocklike comets?

Computer Simulations: A Technique That Will Not Work. Computer simulations can accurately project a comet’s position only about 3,000 years back in time. Secular history for several postflood cultures is well established for the last 4,000 years, so the flood was farther in the past.

Many computer programs have been developed to calculate past (or future) comet positions; the more sophisticated techniques give greater accuracy but require much greater computer capabilities. All programs work essentially the same way. From a comet’s known position at a given time, all gravitational forces acting on it are calculated, especially those of the Sun and planets. The computer then calculates from where the net effect of all those forces moved the comet during the preceding time period, such as one day. Next, the net gravitational force acting on each planet is calculated and they are moved back by one day. This “marching” process, one step at a time, is repeated for as long as one attempts to project the comet’s position back in time—or into the future. (Similar procedures are used to find past and future positions of asteroids and spacecraft.)

As you might imagine, hundreds of computer multiplications are required for each step in time. Every number stored in a computer is limited to a fixed number of digits. Let’s call that number x. Because the product of two numbers with x significant digits is a number with 2x digits, the x least significant digits must be discarded when the computer stores that product. Those lost numbers become an error. Also, the slightest error in a comet’s (or planet’s) starting position affects the next computed position. These errors grow exponentially as the marching solution advances. Therefore, this technique cannot determine if comets came from near Earth more than 4,000 years ago.

A Statistical Solution: A Technique That Does Work. The oldest recorded observation of Halley’s comet was made by Chinese astronomers in 239 B.C. It passed perihelion (the point on its orbit closest to the Sun) at 2:49 A.M. on 25 May 239 B.C., based on Greenwich Mean Time and the Julian calendar.^{2} However, its orbit has been numerically integrated (marched back in very short time increments) to 1403.80 B.C., when its period was 69.86 years.^{3}

What was its previous period? The best guess would be 69.86 years, although it could be slightly more or less. The changes in the lengths of consecutive orbital periods vary with a standard deviation, s. A small s indicates a narrow range of variations; a large s indicates a wide range of possibilities. Based on all known periods of Halley’s comet, s = 1.56 years. That is, there is almost a 2 out of 3 chance the previous period was within 1s of 69.86—between 68.30 and 71.42 years. There is a 95% chance the previous period was within 2s of 69.86—that is, between 66.74 and 72.98 years.

When was its perihelion passage 2 periods (N=2) earlier? That best guess would be 139.72 (2 × 69.86) years earlier. However, with each backward step, the total error will grow, but fortunately at a decreasing rate, because one period’s error might cancel an error of another period. So as we look back N periods, or 69.86 × N years, the total error grows more and more slowly as N increases.

Selecting the Most Clocklike Comets. If the most clocklike comets all passed close enough to Earth in a particular year, we could be confident that was not a statistical fluke. An ideal clocklike comet would have:

a. long orbital periods and high angles of inclination, so the comet spends almost all its time far from the planets, minimizing their gravitational perturbations,

b. at least 2,000 years of ancient observations, so fewer orbits are needed to project it back to reasonable dates for the flood (4,000–6,000 years ago), and

c. hundreds of recorded observations that have been smoothly integrated into one marching solution.

The most authoritative source of information for all known comets is the Catalogue of Cometary Orbits 2008 (17th Edition).^{4} It lists on page 157 **two comets that easily surpass all other comets in meeting this criteria: comet Halley and comet Swift-Tuttle.** They are unique in having extremely long periods, high angles of inclination, and hundreds of recorded, eye-witness observations going back to 239 B.C. and 68 B.C., respectively. Furthermore, powerful computer simulations, which took into account the perturbations of all planets, large moons, and large asteroids have accurately projected these comets farther back to 1403.80 B.C. and 702.30 B.C., respectively.^{5} If any comets are sufficiently clocklike, it will be these two. If, as we project them back, we find a time when they should have passed perihelion almost simultaneously, our confidence increases that they did, in fact, come at the same time from near that point in space. Because Earth also occupies that region, the case is made. Bingo!

Comets Halley and Swift-Tuttle were projected back to a time 4,000–6,000 years ago—the window of time that includes dozens of proposed, biblically-based dates for the flood. The tightest clustering occurred **in the year 3290 B.C,**^{6} after exactly 27.000 orbits for comet Halley and exactly 20.000 orbits for comet Swift-Tuttle.

But is that tentative date significant? In other words, what if we repeated the above procedure that arrived at the year 3290 B.C., but began each comet’s backward projection at a random point on its orbit instead of at perihelion? What percent of those random trials would cluster both comets—and earth—at least as tightly as was achieved with the true, oldest known perihelion? The answer turns out to be less than 1.0%. Therefore, we can be more than 99% confident that we have an astronomical fix for the flood around 3290 B.C. and that massive amounts of rocks and water (ice) launched into space by the hypersonic fountains of the great deep later merged by known forces to become comets.

Table 23 gives each comet’s expected 1s error in arriving at 3290 B.C. Assuming the 99% confidence level is high enough to conclude that both comets originated near Earth at about the same time, that single time distribution has a 1s error of **± **100 years—smaller than each comet individually.^{6}

Notice that 3290 B.C. is the most likely year of tightest clustering of only their perihelions. These comets would have been nearest Earth’s orbit a few months before or after those perihelion passes—as they approached perihelion or after they left perihelion. Those errors amount to only a few months—an insignificant error in comparison with the **± **100 year uncertainty. Therefore, the most clocklike comets were clustered near Earth in **3290 ± 100 B.C.**