Edmond Halley and his famous Comet

Sir Edmond Halley (1656-1742)
©Klaus-Dieter Keller, wikipedia

On November 8, 1656, Sir Edmond Halley was born. The astronomer, geophysicist, mathematician, meteorologist, and physicist, was best known for computing the orbit of the eponymous Halley’s Comet.

Edmond Halley was born in England to the family of a wealthy soap maker. Therefore, Halley was able to receive a proper education and started studying at Queen’s College in Oxford, where he already published his first scientific articles on the solar system in his first years.

Halley’s success set in rather early. Still a college student, the young scientist traveled to Saint Helena, where he set up a sextant with telescopic sights to observe the stars of the southern hemisphere. He found out that the transit of the planet Mercury and the one by Venus could be used to calculate the absolute size of our solar system. After publishing his results, Halley was now a widely discussed astronomer, he was awarded the Masters degree and elected as a fellow of the Royal Society, for which he had accomplished several tasks before.

In 1686, Halley made again major contributions to the field of astronomy through explaining solar heating with atmospheric motions, but also to the field of data visualization. His truly innovative charts and graphs were highly appreciated in the scientific community, wherefore his great reputation expanded.

To improve his knowledge on the compass and terrestrial magnetism, Halley took command of the ship Paramour and went on a scientific voyage resulting in the publication of ‘General Chart of the Variation of the Compass‘ in 1701. This was the first such chart to be published and the first on which isogonic, or Halleyan lines appeared. In 1705, Halley published another groundbreaking work called ‘Synopsis Astronomia Cometicae‘ on observations of comet sightings between the years 1456 and 1682, which he determined to be one and the same comet. This was probably the work he is still best known for. His theory had beed approved (unfortunately after his passing) and the comet was then named after Halley in honor to his great achievements. Halley’s comet is very special due to its appearance every 75 years and it also depicts the only short-period comet that is visible by the naked eye. The comet was also the first to be recognized as periodic, which Halley found out using Newton‘s new laws on gravity.

The scientific career Halley’s continued, he discovered the proper motion of fixed stars, researched on scientifically dating the monument Stonehenge and finally became Astronomer Royal in 1720 as the successor of the famous John Flamsteed.

Edmond Halley made extraordinary contributions to several scientific fields in the 17th and 18th century, varying from astronomical research over discoveries in the area of geomagnetism to his invention of the diving bell and many other. His numerous works and visualizations were discussed for many years and Halley’s major achievements were honored by the Royal Society and many asteroids, comets, craters and mathematical methods were named after him.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video about the great Edmond Halley at the Institute of Astronomy belonging to the University of Cambridge.

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