Halley’s Comet is most definitely the most famous comet in history and is visible from Earth roughly once every 75 years. It was last seen in our solar system in 1986, and the activity of the comet has been studied and recorded since as far back as 200 BC. The comet was named after the astronomer Edmond Halley, who was the first person to discover and record the periodic behavior of the comet.
Despite the fact that many of us today have never seen it, Halley’s Comet remains one of the most famous and recognizable of celestial objects. The comet has provided scientists with plenty of theories and hypotheses over the years, and, during its 1986 arrival, it was observed and studied by several spacecrafts. This has led to theories about the structure of the comet, and comparisons with other comets. Here are some of the things we managed to find out about Halley’s Comet.
The comet has been intriguing and befuddling scientists since as far back as the days of Ancient Greece. There were reports that the comet, and its activity, was first recorded in 239 BC, though some put it as far back as around 400 BC! Later, the Babylonians kept records of the appearance of a comet in the skies, first in 164 BC, then again in 87 BC. However, at this time, the appearance of comets was seen as isolated events, and all those keeping a record believed, quite understandably, that they were seeing a different comet each time. This was probably due to many of the superstitions around at the time – with comets seen to be harbingers of doom or destruction! It wasn’t until 1705 that we discovered that all of these appearances were by the same comet.
Edmond Halley’s observations
In 1705 an English astronomer named Edmond Halley was documenting his findings and research about the behavior and patterns of over 20 different comets, and he stumbled across something rather remarkable. Halley, who had been influenced by Copernicus’ revelation that the Sun (not the Earth) was the center of the solar system, determined that the 3 of the comets observed shared very similar orbit patterns. After cross-referencing and finding other parameters, Halley hypothesized that there was one comet making regular visits to Earth’s solar system.
Buoyed by his unexpected discovery, Halley saw that the comet’s appearance had been recorded in 1531, 1607, and 1682. It was then that he made a very bold prediction, postulating that the comet would return to Earth in 1758. Halley, unfortunately, passed away in 1742, but, had he been alive in 1758 he would have lived to know he had made one of the most significant scientific discoveries of all time.
As we know, the comet was last seen in 1986 and was photographed by European spacecraft Giotto. The comet is expected to be seen again in the year 2061, by which time we may well have advanced enough that we can study the comet more closely. It is estimated that the comet will appear on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and that this will make it much brighter. Hopefully, this will make the comet much easier to study and get a good look at. There are some who think the arrival may not happen, stating that it is too far into the future to make such a prediction, and that the orbit could change – but many scientists dispute this.
Halley’s Comet has changed the way we look at comets and given us a deeper understanding of how the solar system works. There are, in fact, a number of other comets sharing similar characteristics, and these are named Halley Family Comets. However, it’s pretty clear that when it comes to all things celestial, Halley’s Comet is most certainly top dog!