How Much Do You Know About Astronomy’s Most Famous Comet – Halley’s Comet?

Approximately every 76 years, the famous Halley’s comet whizzes past the earth so close that it can be observed with the naked eye.

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The regular recurrence of the comet was first predicted and described by the English astronomer Edmond Halley near the beginning of the 1700s. Historical sighting of the comet go back as far as the third century B.C. The comet has often been linked to coincidentally timed historical events and been the subject of many bad omens and folklore over the years.

For a long time, little was know of this mystical flaming star that passed through our heaven before disappearing again. In 1705, the “Synopsis Astronomia Cometicae” was first published by Edmond Halley. Halley made use of the gravitational theories put forward by Sir Isaac Newton and plotted the paths of two dozen comets. He put forward his theory that the comet sightings recorded in 1531, 1607 and 1682 were one in the same and that the comet orbited the sun, passing by the earth every 76 years.

His published prediction was that the next sighting was due at the end of 1758 or early 1759. “If it should return, according to our predictions,” he stated, “impartial posterity will not refuse to acknowledge that this was first discovered by an Englishman.” Halley died in 1742 but his calculations and theories were sound and the night of Christmas 1758, Halley’s Comet was again seen.

This was a major breakthrough and gave substance to Newtonian Theory and scientific reasoning. The Gentleman’s Magazine, a British publication wrote, “By its appearance at this time, the truth of the Newtonian Theory of the Solar System is demonstrated to the conviction of the whole world, and the credit of the astronomers is fully established and raised far above all the wit and sneers of ignorant men.” Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille, a French astronomer soon named the comet in Halley’s honor.

Although Halley only worked out a few of the sightings of the comet, further studies have revealed many other sightings going back to ancient times. It is now believed that the comet has existed for roughly 200,000 years. Researchers Daniel W. Graham and Eric Hintz published a paper in the Journal of Cosmology back in 2010. In the paper, the two suggest that first known sighting of Halley’s Comet took place in Greece around 466 B.C. We last saw the comet in 1984 meaning we will have to wait until July 2061 to witness it again. Something to look forward to.