ITS 30th RECORDED RETURN
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 a record of the 30th return of this most famous of all comets, I would like to electronically save all the issues. For starters, however, I have decided to reprint here a selection of major articles that appeared over the five year period.
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 underlined 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.
*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.
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.
**Regarding 684 A.D., there is a woodcut illustration of a comet in the Nuremberg Chronicles (shown here),:
published in 1493 on a page recounting events of A.D. 684, a year in which Halley's Comet appeared. 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" The copy is in the Library of Congress collection.
Edmond Halley - 1656-1742
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.
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.
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.
I have created a special page listing every article published in the Halley's Comet Watch Newsletter during the 5 years of its publication. Even without the full text of the article, you'll get an idea of the scope of interest in Halley's Comet last time around. If the article title is highlighted, there is a link to the actual article. Eventually I hope to have a link to every article. Meanwhile, I have selected what I consider the most unique articles to post in their entirety.
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 and Editorial I wrote about the comet's return. I've finally gotten around to transferring them from the old Atari script to this website.
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:
As time permits, these pages will expand to include the "best" of the Halley's Comet Watch Newsletter. Keep watching!
Joseph M. Laufer, "The Comet Man"!
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. 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.
THE BAYEUX TAPESTRY
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