VOLUME I, NUMBER 1, PAGES 1, 2, 3 and 4

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This premier issue of the newsletter is being sent to members in twenty-two states and Canada.  Among our charter members is an individual from Wisconsin who was born on May 18, 1910 and named “Halley” after the comet which shone brightly overhead on that date, and another who was six years old in 1910 and who stated in his letter that he was fortunate to view Halley’s Comet from a rooftop in Mexico City.  According to John P. Chemidlin of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., “It stretched far across the sky.”




As we began work on our organization, we discovered several problems with the name HALLEY.  When we submitted our letterhead to the printer, he gently suggested that we had misspelled HALLEY.  Even our first rubber stamp had to be rejected because the manufacturer took it upon himself to correct “our” mistake and remove one of the Ls from the name.  And the mail?  Every fifth letter or so comes to HALEY’S Comet Watch.  Fact of the matter is that Edmond Halley spelled his name with two Ls. 


But that isn’t the only problem.  The most common pronunciation of the Comet is incorrect.  We can blame Bill Haley, the singer-guitarist who scored with “Rock Around the Clock,” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll” for some of the confusion on the spelling and pronunciation.  Bill, incidentally, died in 1981 without the benefit of viewing the comet after which he (or his agent) named his group.  You may recall that he was billed as “Bill Haley and the Comets”.  The proper pronunciation of the name will probably remain controversial.  Nigel Calder, in his book, The Comet Is Coming, (page 44), explains: “There are three main possibilities: Ha’li rhyming with alley, the obvious one for anyone accustomed to the peculiarities of English spelling; Hay-li rhyming with bailey, often preferred by those who grew up with the pop group known as Bill Haley and the Comets; Hah-li rhyming with bawley, favored by Colin Ronan, one of Halley’s biographers, on the grounds that the name was sometimes spelled Hawley.”  Take your pick!




As we go to press, we are four years away from the peak period of Comet Halley’s visibility.  It reaches perihelion (point closest to the Sun) on February 9, 1986.  While the comet will be visible before perihelion (from December 26, 1985 through January 18, 1986), its primary visibility to those of us in the Northern Hemisphere will be after perihelion, from April 19 through April 30, 1986 (see diagram of orbit by clicking here).  The reason that organizations such as ours have begun limited activity at this time is that a wealth of information exists about comets in general and Comet Halley in particular.  In order to get the most out of Halley’s return in 1985-86, a study of its past is imperative.  Also, during the intervening 76 years since its 1910 visit, there have been phenomena scientific advances which will help us study the comet with a great deal of sophistication this time.  HALLEY’S COMET WATCH ’86 is a layman’s organization dedicated to the popular lore about the comet.  While we will deal with some of the scientific aspects of the comet, our primary thrust is towards the lore associated with it.  We plan to take an historical-sociological look at everything related to Halley’s Comet.




The “other “ organization that will be dealing with Comet Halley on a more scientific and professional level is THE INTERNATIONAL HALLEY WATCH, which operates out of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.  If you are a professional or amateur astronomer, this is the organization for you.  The purpose of the INTERNATIONAL HALLEY WATCH is to promote cooperation, communication, and standardization of Halley studies primarily among existing facilities and personnel.  This organization has already published a 72-page report of the Science Working Group and a 44=page Comet Halley handbook.  It plans to publish its own newsletter.  The Watch will act as a center for data archiving and data distribution to the scientific discipline areas, amateur organizations and the public.




Halley’s comet is currently within 1.1 billion miles of Earth, still outside Saturn’s orbit, and is heading toward the Sun at about 20,000 m.p.h.  On two occasions, the most recent at the end of March, 1982, astronomers directed their efforts specifically at attempting to “discover” Halley’s Comet in outer space.  However, Dr. Brian Marsden, who heads the international comet reporting center at Cambridge, Mass., doesn’t expect the comet to be seen with telescopes until the end of 1983, when it will be 700 million miles away.




Comet Halley last reached perihelion on April 20, 1910.  It was most visible during May of 1910 and was last seen on June 16, 1911, after it had turned onto the outward-bound leg of its 75.8-year journey that takes it near the orbit of Pluto, the outermost known planet of our solar system.  At the moment, interestingly, the comet is actually getting farther away from us.  The Earth, in its orbit around the Sun, is now moving in the opposite direction from which Halley is coming.  Our planet is “outrunning” the comet by nearly 13,000 m.p.h.  In mid-June, however, Earth and Halley will again start to close the distance between them.  Then, later on, the see-saw will begin again as the Earth’s orbit will broaden the distance—and so on until 1986.




Early American plans for a Halley mission involved a spacecraft that would rendezvous with the comet after first being pushed into a compatible retrograde high-inclination orbit by solar-electric propulsion.   With time and money working against them, planners ultimately devised a low-cost desperation mission that would rush past the comet at high speed and possibly return samples of its volatile-rich coma to Earth.  But even this concept is now considered unaffordable, leaving the comet’s welcoming party of spacecraft in the hands of ESA (The European Space Administration), the Soviet Union, and Japan.  The. U.S. will still receive scientific data from the comet through other space projects, including the Space Shuttle and NASA’s Space Telescope (The Hubble), which is to be launched in early 1985.  Its focal point will be in Baltimore, MD on the edge of the Johns Hopkins campus.


The ESA, which is a consortium of 11 nations (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom), plans a variety of experiments ranging from an imaging camera to a dust impact detection system.  They have named their special spacecraft for the Halley Comet Mission “Giotto” after the first artist believed to have depicted the comet.  Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) was a Florentine pioneer of naturalistic painting.  His painting, The Adoration of the Magi, shows Halley’s Comet over the stable of Bethlehem.  The painting is believed to have been executed somewhere between 1302 and 1306.  Halley’s Comet reached perihelion on October 23, 1301 when Giotto was 34 years old.


The Giotto spacecraft will fly past Halley’s Comet during 1986.  Giotto will carry eight instruments to study the comet’s various characteristics as the two bodies – satellite and comet – pass at a velocity of 68 km/s.  In the four hours that it takes Giotto to pass Halley’s Comet, it will travel through the comet’s outer hydrogen envelope – that extends for some 10 million km – to within 1000 km of the icy nucleus, itself probably only 5 km in diameter.  The instruments, which will include a camera to obtain images of details as small as 50 metres, will answer questions about the composition of the comet, and the way it interacts with solar radiation and the solar wind – the stream of energetic particles that flows form the Sun into interplanetary space.  At present the plan is to launch Giotto using an Ariane rocket in the summer of 1985, so as to make a flyby in March of 1985, when Halley’s Comet should be particularly active, some four weeks after its closest approach to the Sun.





(Editor’s note 3/15/2004: No longer available – although we still have some publications and memorabilia available.  Contact us via e-mail: joelaufer@yahoo.com).


THE COMET IS COMING!  By Nigel Calder. $12.95  (Paperback $5.95)

The author takes you on a journey through time and space to explore the curious history and fascinating science of comets, and tells you everything you need to know to be ready for the return of Halley’s Comet during 1985-86.  160 pages.



Donald K. Yeomans is associated with the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif. And NASA.  He created this handbook for The INTERNATIONAL HALLEY WATCH.  It consists of 44 pages, containing 12 diagrams, 4 tables and 20 pages of computer generated epheremis data for the period 1981-1987.  :It is especially valuable for the amateur astronomer interested in very specific observing conditions and positions.  For the more scientifically oriented person.


GIOTTO’S PORTRAIT OF HALLEY’S COMET. By Roberta J. M. Olson. (Booklet – an offprint from Scientific American (May, 1979) - $1.00

A ten-page article which gives an overview of the primary information about Comet Halley, with emphasis on its representation in art down through the centuries.   Includes two color photos (excellent reproduction of Giotto’s The Adoration of the Magi), 8 b&w photos; 2 charts.




  1. QUESTION AND ANSWER COLUMN.  In our next issue we will carry a question and answer column.  Please mail your inquiries for inclusion in the column.
  2. HALLEY TWO TIMERS CLUB.  If you were old enough in 1910 to see the comet (and remember the event), write and tell us about it.  Or, if you know of anyone who has a recollection of the 1910 visit, send their name to us.  We will publish descriptions and anecdotes in future newsletters.
  3. HALLEY LORE. One of our members, born at the height of Halley’s visibility in 1910, was named after the comet.  We are certain that others were so named and that there are innumerable stories which have been passed down through families surrounding Halley’s 1910 visit.  Write and tell us your story.  We want to share this information with our readers.

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