Every 75 years, Halley’s Comet traverses our planetary neighborhood, providing an astonishing spectacle of beaming light before drifting back into the Solar System. It is the most famous comet identified by mankind, having first been observed by Chinese astronomers around 240 BC. Since then, many civilizations including the Babylonians and medieval European societies noted its appearance, though it wasn’t until 1705 when English astronomer Edmond Halley suggested that the same object kept reappearing cyclically.
Halley determined the comet’s periodicity by examining reports occurring in 1531, 1607, and 1682, proceeding to correctly predict its return in 1758. Unfortunately, he did not live to witness his proven hypothesis, though astronomers respectfully granted a posthumous honor by naming the comet after him to commemorate his achievement.
Halley’s Comet is a short-period comet named after the orbit calculator rather than the discoverer, a characteristic it shares with Encke’s Comet. Designated 1P/Halley, its last appearance occurred in 1986. During this visit, it became the first comet observed in great detail by a spacecraft allowing for immense observational data and research on the nucleus and tail formation of comets. The research validated theories suggesting that Halley’s Comet composed of volatile ices like water, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and dust.
Set to return around July 28, 2061, Halley’s Comet will appear in an even better position, on the same side of the Sun as the Earth, allowing researchers and comet gazers alike to prepare for a once in a many lifetime observational opportunity.