Halley's Comet - the story behind Comet Halley

This article talks about Halley's Comet. Comet Halley, as it is also called, is perhaps the most famous of all comets. In 1705, the English astronomer, Edmond Halley used Isaac Newton’s new theory on gravitation to learn more about comets. He wanted to determine the orbits of comets by using their recorded positions in the sky as markers of time. He discovered that the comets of 1531, 1607, and 1682 all had the similar brightness and almost the exact same orbits. After figuring out the gravitational influences on the cometary orbits from Jupiter and Saturn, he predicted that all of these appearances had been from the same comet. His conclusion led to his calculations to predict the comet’s return in 1758.

Edmond Halley

Just as predicted, Halley's Comet passed again in 1758 but Edmond Halley had died in 1742 and never got the chance to see it. The comet appeared on Christmas night 1758 and proved that Edmond Halley was right and that Isaac Newton’s theories on gravity were indeed true. The comet has since been named after Halley and records were later found indicating that Halley’s Comet had been observed as early as 240 BC.

Ancient Appearances

In 240 BC and earlier, records show that Chinese astronomers saw the comet appear from as early as 467 BC. After 240 BC, records were made by the Chinese, Babylonian, Persian, and other astronomers from Mesopotamia.

In 87 BC, V.G. Gurzadyan and R. Vardanyan said that the “symbol on Tigranes the Great’s crown that features a star with a curved tail” may represent the passage of Halley’s comet in 87 BC. The comet passed on August 6 in 87 BC to bring in the New Era of the brilliant King of Kings.

In 12 BC, Halley’s Comet was seen and some theologians have argued that this might explain the story of the Star of Bethlehem in the Bible.

The Talmud mentions, “there is a star which appears once in seventy years that makes the captains of the ships err”. This quote is thought to be written by the Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananiah and most likely refers to the comet’s return in 66 AD, the only time it occurred in his lifetime.

In 837, Hally's Comet was closer to Earth than ever before (3.2 million miles away).

In 1066, the comet was seen in England. It has been recorded that it appeared to be four times the size of Venus and having light equal to a quarter of the Moon. Chaco Native Americans in New Mexico also recorded the 1066 comet in their petroglpyhs.

The artist Giotto di Bondone may have observed the comet in 1301. His picture of the Star of Bethlehem in the Arena Chapel was finished in 1305 and is thought to be an early representation of the comet.

In 1456, the comet came close to the Earth with its tail extending over 60 degrees of the sky.

Recent Appearances of Comet Halley

Halley's Comet has been seen in 1835, 1910, and 1986. Its last appearance in 1986 disappointed many who were hoping to get a glimpse. The comet did not have its usual brightness due to increased light pollution on Earth. Halley’s Comet usually appears every 75-76 years and is predicted to return again in 2061.

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