Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tonight's Sky for February 16: 9th Recorded Perihelion of Halley's Comet (374)

It was on this date in 374AD that the 9th recorded perihelion approach (exact date of perihelion determined far later) of Halley's Comet took place. Aside from the fact that its appearance was recorded, virtually nothing else is known about this appearance as seen from Earth. Instead, what makes this interesting is the tale (sorry) behind the comet.

Looking through astronomical records, English astronomer Edmund Halley (1656-1742) noticed that there seemed to be a pattern to sightings of a Great Comet, namely that one was seen every 76 years. Using the past to predict the future, Halley theorized that these several comets were, in fact, a single comet returning every 76 years. Halley then boldly predicted that a great comet would be seen again in 1758. Unfortunately, Halley died before he was vindicated. 

For the record, the comet's next return is set for 2061.

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