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Edmond Halley: The Man Behind The Comet

1147 words - 5 pages

The year is 2061. Ordinary astronomy enthusiasts and seasoned astrophysicists alike flock to the darkest, most obscure corners of the Earth to witness the return of what is arguably the most famous near-Earth object in history. This celebrated occurrence is known as the perihelion of Halley’s Comet, and though its observance dates back to at least 239 B.C., the man responsible for accurately analyzing its repeated occurrences and calculating its seventy-five year orbit is no other than Edmond Halley. A human marvel of the Scientific Revolution, Edmond Halley’s contribution to the field of physics is unprecedented. His work has left an everlasting impression on the way we, not only as ...view middle of the document...

According to Joseph Moxon, a globe maker and lexicographer at the time, Halley’s attentiveness to astronomy was so acute that “if a star were displaced in the globe he would presently find it out” He also showed an interest in geophysics, observing and measuring magnetic variation at age sixteen. Halley graduated from Saint Paul’s School at age seventeen and continued his education at the Queen’s College of Oxford University in 1673. He entered the Queen’s College, already well known for his immense knowledge of astronomy and large collection of astronomical instruments, and was noticed by another brilliant astronomer, John Flamsteed. Halley and Flamsteed, who had been appointed the honorable title of “King’s Astronomical Observator”, the first English Astronomer Royal, began working together in 1675. While studying at The Queen’s College, Halley made several significant observations, one of which being the occultation of Mars by the Moon on June 11th, 1675. As an undergraduate, he also published several papers discussing the Solar System and sunspots. Despite great success in his studies, Halley left Oxford University without graduating in 1676. Though his formal education had ended, his scientific and mathematical advancements continued to progress.
After departing from Oxford University, Halley sailed south to Saint Helena, a British territory in the South Atlantic Ocean, where he mapped 341 southern hemisphere stars and discovered a star cluster in the Centaurus constellation. During this expedition, he also made improvements to the sextant, an instrument used primarily for measuring the altitudes of celestial bodies, and made the first complete observation of a transit of Mercury. Halley proposed the usage of Venus’ transit, which is the time it takes for the planet to visibly move across the Sun, to determine the distance of the Sun and, ultimately, the scale of the Solar System. Using the transit of Venus and Kepler’s Third Law of Planetary Motion, he was able to accurately calculate the distance from the Sun to the Earth. He published his findings in Saint Helena in 1678 under the title Catalogus Stellarum Australium. This publication was very well received by the scientific community and earned Halley an honorary master’s degree from the University of Oxford, as well as an induction to the Royal Society where he was one of the youngest members at age 22.
Halley’s scientific contributions were not limited to the astronomical community; often referred to as the “father of...

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