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HALLEY'S COMET

THE THIRTIETH RECORDED RETURN - 1985-1986

By Joseph M. Laufer

 

From 1982 through 1986, I published 21 issues of the "Halley's Comet Watch Newsletter" commemorating the 30th recorded return of Halley's Comet in the winter of 1985 and the spring of 1986. The five volumes of newsletters were, unfortunately, published at the dawn of the personal computer age. The first two issues were done on a typewriter. The remaining 19 issues were done on an Atari home computer. Ideally, so that the people of 2061 -- the next time Halley's Comet will return -- will have the unique perspective that I had on the comet, I decided to create this site to preserve the 21 Newsletters.

Click here for the HALLEY'S COMET WATCH NEWSLETTER, 5 Volumes; 21 Issues.

Paramount in the collection is a series which I called "A Halley Odyssey" -- recounting my international travels to personally view several of the historic artistic records of Halley's Comet. The research brought me to Lee and Canterbury, England; Padua, Italy and Bayeux, France.

In my work with Halley's Comet, I focused more on the historical aspects of the comet than on its astronomical aspects, although it was impossible to avoid dealing with astronomy in the process. My early research was guided by an article in the Scientific American which dealt with artistic representations of the various returns of Halley's Comet throughout history. The seed was planted for travel, as I felt compelled to visit the various locations throughout the world which possessed an original historical artistic representation of the comet.

History had recorded the 29 previous visits of Halley's Comet. Here are the years for which we have some kind of record of the return of Halley's Comet. (I've highlighted the years in which an artistic representation of the comet exists and which I visited during my "Halley Odyssey"):

B.C.: 240, *164, 86, 11.

A.D.: 66, 141, 218, 295, 347, 451, 530, 607, **684, 760, 837***, 912, 989,
1066, 1145, 1222, 1301, 1378, 1456, 1531, 1607, 1682, 1759, 1835, 1910.

* Note: In 1985 two Babylonian clay tablets were unearthed from the archives of the British Museum containing the record of the appearance of Halley's comet in 164 B.C. While some have called this the earliest reliable sighting of Halley's comet, most astronomers accept the 240 B.C. Chinese sighting as the first recorded one. The tablet fragments were found 100 years ago, but not verified until 1985.

**Note: Regarding 684 A.D., there is a woodcut illustration of a comet in the Nuremberg Chronicles (shown below), published in 1493 on a page recounting events of A.D. 684, a year in which Halley's Comet appeared.

***Note: Halley's Comet's closest encounter with Earth was in 837, on its 15th recorded return. During that year it came within less than four million miles of Earth.



Edmond Halley - 1656-1742

Edmond Halley, the Royal Astronomer of England, saw the comet that would someday bear his name in 1682. It returned after his death, as he predicted, in 1759 - and has been called "Comet Halley" from that time foreward.


Image of Halley's Comet in 684 from Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

I viewed a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicles at an Art Exhibit at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., entitled: "Fire and Ice - A History of Comets in Art." A copy is in the Library of Congress collection.

HISTORIC HALLEY TRAVELOGUE

I have posted below the complete series covering my international quest for artistic reproductions of Halley's Comet throughout the centuries. I began my "Halley Odyssey" in England in 1984. Click below for each of the parts of that tour and subsequent visits to England.

In Lee, England, a suburb of London, I visited the tomb of Edmond Halley (1656-1742), the Astronomer Royal of England after whom the comet is named because he predicted that it would return in the year 1759. The tour included a visit to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, where there is a monument to Edmond Halley.

Halley Odyssey Part I: London - Greenwich - Lee

In Padua, Italy, I visited the Arena Chapel (Capella Scrovegni) where the artist, Giotto di Bondoni, painted the return of Halley's Comet in 1301 as the star of Bethlehem in his Nativity fresco, shown below.


Halley Odyssey Part II: Padua and Giotto's "Adoration of the Magi"

In Bayeux, France, I observed the famous Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts Halley's Comet on its 1066 return as a bad omen for King Harold during the Battle of Hastings.

Halley Odyssey Part III: Bayeux, William the Conqueror and Halley's Comet

I have established a link with a site which deals with the Bayeux Tapestry in depth. The segment of the tapestry which portrays Halley's Comet is illustrated here: Halley's Comet in 1066 The text above the individuals pointing to the comet reads, in Latin, "Isti mirant stella" -- "They wondered at a star". Halley's Comet is rendered as a great ball of fire with a flaming tail, an exaggerated version of its 1066 appearance. To the right and below the comet, King Harold is being warned by a page of the "bad omen" which appeared in the sky. Eventually, it will have proven to be an evil portent of his defeat in the Battle of Hastings. The word "disaster" in our English language comes from the combination of the Latin terms "dis", meaning "evil" and "astro", meaning star -- or bad star. Comets were generally interpreted as being bad omens or bad stars. Be sure to check out Part III of my Halley Odyssey to better understand the connection between the Bayeux Tapestry and Halley's Comet. To navigate the complete Bayeux Tapestry site, click on to

The Bayeux Tapestry Website.

In Canterbury, England, I had the privilege of viewing the Eadwine Psalter (book of Psalms) where a monk had drawn Halley's Comet in the margin during its return in 1145.

Halley Odyssey - Epilogue I: Canterbury, The Eadwine Psalter and Halley's Comet 1145

On October 29th, 1985, the 329th birthday of Edmond Halley, the British threw a big party in honor of the return of Halley's Comet. The Halley's Comet Royal Gala was held at Wembley Conference Centre, London. It was a combination Variety Show and "Who's Who" in British Society, hosted by Princess Anne of the British Royal Family. As President of the Halley's Comet Society - USA, I was honored, with my wife, Penny, to be in the receiving line for her Highness, Princess Anne. Here we are chatting with the Princess. Our two older children, Kurt and Kerry, joined us at the reception afterwards and had an opportunity to meet the Princess, also.

Click here for a review and description of the Royal Gala Honoring Edmond Halley

The final issue of the Halley's Comet Watch Newsletter, published in November, 1986, several months after the comet disappeared from view for its 75-year orbit, features a "Retrospective" on Halley's Comet which chronicles the highlights of the 30th predicted return of the comet in 1985 and 1986 and an Editorial I wrote about the comet's return. I've finally gotten around to transferring them from the old Atari script to this website.

Click here for "Halley's Comet Watch '86: A Retrospective"

Click here for "The Eye of the Beholder: An Editorial"

On April 30, 1986, I wrote an article for the Burlington County Times which was sort of my "swan song" regarding Halley's Comet. They gave it this headline: NO MATTER WHAT, HE HAD TO SEE THE COMET. The "teaser" read: "Joseph Laufer, Burlington County's own Halley's Comet expert, found that a national reputation wasn't really cutting it at home. As the comet was making its final approachy, Laufer knew he had to make good with his own family."

If you'd like to read the article which tells about my personal viewing of Halley's Comet with my family, click below:

Joe Laufer's personal encounter with Halley's Comet


From time to time I receive inquiries from students who have been assigned "Halley's Comet" as a theme for a term paper or some other report for their class. I can almost predict the basic questions, so in order to make it easy, I've placed a link below to a page I call "Halley's Comet FAQs" -- Frequently Asked Questions.

The answers are based on the scientific comet knowledge of 1985, prior to the encounters with the Halley interceptor spacecraft. Other links below deal with the post-encounter science.

If the answers to these questions aren't sufficient for your project, and you can't find the information you need on some of the other links I have here, don't hesitate to e-mail me and I'll do my best to answer your questions.

Click here for Halley FAQ Page


Some Links to Halley's Comet Sites on the Internet

Here are some links to sites which discuss the more scientific information about Halley's Comet.

Watch for Halley's Comet on its Next Visit in 2061

To track its current orbit through space in relation to the other planets, you can visit the excellent NASA Halley's Comet Orbit Simulation site at:

 

 

 

 
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