What is Halley's Comet?

A stamp from the Central African Republic showing Halley's Comet. Editorial credit: Boris15 / Shutterstock.com.
A stamp from the Central African Republic showing Halley's Comet. Editorial credit: Boris15 / Shutterstock.com.

Halley’s Comet is one of the most famous comets in the universe. This comet is periodic since it comes within vicinity of the earth after every 75 years. Humans have an opportunity to see the Halley’s Comet twice in their lifetime. The last comet appeared in 1986, and its next appearance will be in 2061. Edmond Halley was an English astronomer who had been Isaac Newton’s editor, friend, and publisher. He realized that the same comet appeared in the Solar System in 1532, 1607, and 1682. In the end, his observation was accurate, and the comet drew its name Halley from him. After many calculations based on the pattern and the comet and Solar system’s orbits, Halley predicted that Halley’s comet would appear again in 1758. However, he never lived to see it.

A Brief History of Halley’s Comet

As early as 240 BC, there were observations of Halley’s Comet’s returns to the inner Solar System. There exist clear records made by the Babylonians, Chinese, and medieval European chroniclers of the appearance of this strange comet. However, the people had not realized that there was a pattern in the comet’s appearances. Furthermore, they had no clue that it was the same comet. It was not until 1705 that Halley confirmed these two facts about the comet.

Discovery of the Recurrence of Halley’s Comet

Many astronomers had argued that the earth was the center of the universe except for Nicolaus Copernicus who claimed that the sun was the center of the solar system. Copernicus’ calculations enabled astronomers to describe how objects move in the universe and around the solar system. However, Copernicus had taken very long to come up with these calculations. Halley Edmond recorded his findings on 24 comets in a book titled “A Synopsis of the Astronomy of Comets.” The most exciting thing about his findings is that he discovered that three of the comets that appeared between 1337 and 1698 were very similar. These comets had identical parameters and the same orbit size. Halley then concluded that a similar comet would come to earth again. Halley’s prediction came to pass as the Halley’s Comet appeared in 1758. Unfortunately, Halley died in 1742 and did not have the pleasure of seeing the comet.

Modern-Day Observation of Halley’s Comet

The most spectacular Halley’s Comet is the one that appeared in 1910. It was the first time that scientists captured Halley’s Comet on camera. Its distance from the earth was 22.4 million kilometers. In 1986, astronomers sent a spacecraft to view the Halley’s Comet as it arrived in the earth’s vicinity. They observed that the comet became faint and a distant object as it approached the sun. Two spacecrafts named Vega 1 and 2 from the Soviet Union and France were able to capture the comet’s nucleus for the first time. A spaceship from NASA took pictures of Halley’s Comet from a distance of 28 million kilometers. With all the technological advancement in the world today, one cannot wait to see the Halley’s Comet for themselves in 2061.


More in Did You Know