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Halley's Comet Returns

By Patrick Mondout

The return of Comet Halley, so named because Edmund Halley correctly predicted its return 53 years in advance, was to be the celestial event of the Awesome80s -- an event we would all tell our grandkids about just as those who had witnessed the 1910 appearance were able to do. But after the disappointing appearance of Comet Kohoutek (the "Comet of the Century") in 1973, many were skeptical of Comet Halley. The skeptics were not disappointed, but most everyone else was.

Comet Chasing

Most space agencies around the world announced missions to rendezvous with the comet. Unfortunately for the Americans, the Challenger disaster put an end to their biggest plans. But others were more successful. The Soviets sent Vega 1 and Vega 2 to Venus and then to within 8,900 kilometers of Comet Halley. The European Space Agency's Giotto and the Japanese Sakigake and Suisei missions were also successful in providing close-up data.

Poor Performance

While the view from space may have been spectacular, the view closer to home was the worst of the millennium. That is, virtually every other passing of Comet Halley for a thousand years had been more spectacular than the 1985/86 visit. Books were written and it was featured in newspaper and magazine articles. Discussions of the comet and the correct pronunciation of Sir Edmund's name ("hal-lee" versus "hail-lee") made it to prime time TV. It was also eagerly promoted by many of our science teachers who were endlessly pursuing the type of science that would retain our interest. But the comet itself failed to live up to the hype. Nevertheless, it was the first comet I remember seeing (I just don't remember 1974's Comet West) and I will remember it for that as will many from our generation.

Halley's Next Return

So when will Halley's Comet return? Don't hold your breath. It will not be back this way until the year 2061!


Share Your Memories!

What do you remember about Halley's Comet? Have you any compelling stories to share? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"My grandmother was born in 1898. She was twelve years old when she saw Halley's comet the first time. She and her brothers climbed to the top of a hill close to her home in the country, in Tennessee. She was in a long white gown and she remembered it whipping in the wind at the top of the hill as they watched in awe of the comet tail burning red against an inky black sky. I was scared, and nervous and excited all at one time." She remembered, smiling. "I'd never seen anything that beautiful or powerful or as close to God."

Later, in 1986 we were at my Mom's table and my Grandmother told about that first viewing. "I remember my father telling me how old I would be when it came around again...and I laughed in disbelief! Now here I am. Once again witnessing the greatness twice in my lifetime!" Both her brothers were dead. And my grandmother, then 88 went to a hill near my parents home where she lived with them. We spread blankets and she watched Halley's comet one last time. With the same childlike awe she must have had at 12. She died two years later. And often spoke of the joy of having seen that "heavenly body" as it "circled the earth's orb." Twice.

A once in a lifetime event...twice in a rare."


"I remember my great-grandmother telling me how people were scared of the comet back in 1910. She said that her parents would keep her and her brothers and sisters in the house because they though the comet would fall on them. She never thought she would be around for the return and she would kid us children to watch out so Halley's Comet wouldn't fall on us."


"On March 22, 1986, I drove to Robert Moses State Park, on Long Island, Fire Island with my friend Billy, my Mom, and my sister Sabrina. The time was around 4:30 in the morning. We brought along camera's and telescope lens. We arrived at the beach which was pitch black, and the only think you could see was the billons of stars. The wind was blowing from the ocean, which was cutting through us, because it was very, very cold. We set up the camera, and telescope and pointed out toward the stars, and we started our search of Halley's Comet. We were looking south when we notice a faint object just 40 degrees above the horizen. We weren't sure if it was Halley's Comet, so we just took pictures left and right. The cold weather was killing us. So, we were rushing to get the pictures and hoping it was the comet. All of us was out there for at least an hour and a half. It started to get light outside, and before you know it, a Park Ranger spotted us, and ask us to leave. We left, not knowing if we even had pictures of the comet.

The comet that year was very faint, so you couldn't see that well with the naked eye. A few days later, my friend Billy turn in the films, and a week later we got the pictures back. And to our surprise, we had pictures of Halley's Comet. It just made our day, and to this very day I still have those pictures, and every time I look at the wall, and graze at it, it remind me of that cold and wonderful early morning at the beach when we saw the COMET."


"My father took me from our home on the coast of Florida to see Halley's comet at the age of ten and told me I may live to see it twice if I lived to be 86. I looked at my father and told him if I ever have a little girl I would name her after that comet so I did & at the age of 86 I hope to show her what made me pick her name and tell her this same little story."


Space References (Books):
Dickinson, Terence. Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe. Firefly Books, 1998.
Greene, Brian. Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. Vintage, 2000.
Hawking, Stephen. Illustrated Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded Edition. Bantam, 1996.
Hawking, Stephen. Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe. New Millenium, 2002.
Hawking, Stephen. The Universe in a Nutshell. Bantam, 2001.
Kaku, Michio. Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps and the Tenth Dimension.
Kranz, Gene. Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond. Berkley Pub Group, 2001.
Sagan, Carl; Druyan, Ann. Comet, Revised Edition. Ballantine, 1997
Sagan, Carl. Cosmos, Reissue Edition. Ballantine, 1993
Sagan, Carl. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Ballantine, 1997

Space References (Videos):
Cosmos. PBS, 2000.
Stephen Hawking's Universe. PBS, 1997.
Hyperspace. BBC, 2002.
Life Beyond Earth PBS, 1999.
The Planets
. BBC, 1999.
Understanding The Universe. A&E, 1996.



Comet Halley as taken March 8, 1986 by W. Liller, Easter Island, part of the International Halley Watch (IHW) Large Scale Phenomena Network.

Courtesy of NASA

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