When Will Halley’s Comet Return to Earth?
I remember when I was a youngster, my mom woke me up from my slumber and told me to bundle up and that we were going outside to see a ‘famous comet.’
I was only seven years old at the time and all I really remember was standing in the driveway of our farm in the middle of the night with a pair of binoculars ‘believing’ that I had seen it in the winter sky. Now did I really see it or did I just want to get back into bed? Either way, if I’m lucky, I’ll get (another) chance to see it in my lifetime.
Halley’s Comet is probably the world’s most famous comet. It returns to Earth’s vicinity about every 75-76 years, making it possible for a person to see it twice in their lifetime. In the summer of 2061, I’ll be the ripe old age of 82. And, it won’t be just a ‘one day’ viewing party, Halley’s comet will be hangin’ out with us all summer long.
The first known observation of Halley's took place waaaaay back in 239 B.C., according to the European Space Agency. The comet's pass in 1910 was particularly spectacular, as the comet flew by about 13.9 million miles from Earth, which is about one-fifteenth the distance between Earth and the sun. On that occasion, Halley's Comet was captured on camera for the first time.
However, when it returned in 1986, the comet ended up being underwhelming in observations from Earth, according to space.com. When the comet made its closest approach to the sun, it was on the opposite side of that star from the Earth — making it a faint and distant object, some 39 million miles away from Earth. In 2061, it will be a bit further away than it was in 1986, but this time, it will be on the same side of the sun as we are and will be much brighter.
How big is Halley’s Comet? About 9 by 5 miles. NASA says that it is one of the darkest, or least reflective, objects in the solar system. It reflects only 3% of the light that falls on it. Every time a comet makes an orbit around the sun, it loses up to 10 feet of its material. Scientists calculate that an average comet lives to complete about 1,000 trips around the Sun. Halley’s Comet has been in its present orbit for at least 16,000 years, but it has shown no obvious signs of aging.
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