Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | September 14, 2022

Halley’s Comet

(3 Minute Read. 14Sep2022)

Halley’s Comet
March 1986 NASA Photo from Easter Island

Why are there comets in the Solar System? Nobody really knows!
What is their purpose? Nobody really knows!
Only the Great Creator Who placed them in the heavens knows.

The Most Famous Comet

Did you see history’s most famous comet when it last appeared in 1986? Halley’s Comet should next appear in 2061.

The comet is named after the English astronomer Edmund Halley (1656-1742) whose name rhymes with “valley.” He concluded that reports of comets appearing in 1531, 1607, and 1682 were actually all reports of the same comet because all three had the same orbital parameters. He successfully predicted the comet’s return in 1758.

Halley’s orbit is a very long thin oval with its longest diameter 35.5 AU, where one AU (Astronomical Unit) is the distance from the earth to the sun, about 93 million miles. Halley is currently in orbit out beyond Neptune and Pluto and approaching its aphelion point, the orbit point furthest from the sun, which Halley will reach in December 2023.

Halley’s orbit around the sun lasts on average about 76 years. Due to the gravitational effects of planets, the comet’s orbital period ranges from 74 to 79 years. Halley is the only comet that is regularly visible to the naked eye.

While aloft, the Space Shuttle Challenger was scheduled to study Halley’s Comet on its 1986 appearance. But this opportunity to study Halley at close hand was lost when Challenger exploded less than two minutes after launch on its tenth flight on January 28, 1986.

The comet’s first certain observation was in 240 BC by Chinese astronomers who recorded its appearance in official chronicles. Thirty distinct appearances of the comet have been recorded by various civilizations.

Some astronomers and theologians have suggested that Halley’s appearance in 12 BC was the Star of Bethlehem that Matthew reports appeared at the birth of Jesus Christ (Matthew 2:1-11). But 12 BC is too early a date for Jesus’ birth.

Adoration of the Magi
Star of Bethlehem top center
modeled on reddish Halley’s Comet

Halley’s 1301 AD appearance was seen by Italian painter Giotto di Bondone (1267–1337). He used it as a model for the Star of Bethlehem in his 1305 painting Adoration of the Magi. Chinese astronomers compared the brilliance of Halley’s 1301 appearance to Procyon, one of the brightest stars in the night sky. But the luminous Star of Bethlehem was not Halley’s Comet.

The Giotto Probe, named for the artist, was an unmanned spacecraft designed to study Halley’s 1986 appearance. It was launched by the European Space Agency and was the first spacecraft to make close up observations of a comet, coming within 370 miles of Halley’s nucleus in March 1986.

Halley’s peanut-shaped nucleus measures about 9 miles long with a diameter of 5 miles. But its tail, always pointing away from the sun, extends more than 62 million miles into space, about two-thirds of the distance between the earth and the sun.

Giotto determined that Halley’s nucleus weighs 240 billion tons and was ejecting matter at the rate of 17.6 tons per second.

Satellite flyby photos of Halley show the surface has complex topography with hills, mountains, ridges, depressions, and a crater.

Halley is an example of a short-period comet. Such comets have orbital periods of less than 200 years. The orbit of Halley’s Comet is an extremely elongated oval. In contrast, Earth’s orbit is nearly circular.

Mark Twain helped make Halley’s Comet famous through its connection with his birth and death. He was born November 30, 1835, two weeks after Halley’s Comet passed the earth.

In Twain’s 1909 autobiography he wrote,
“I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’”

Twain’s hope was fulfilled. He died of a heart attack at home on April 21, 1910, one day after the comet’s closest approach to Earth.

The Eta Aquarids meteor shower in May and the Orionids meteor shower in October result from the earth passing through debris streams from Halley’s Comet.

Something quite mysterious, surprising, and highly unusual about Halley’s Comet will be revealed in next week’s sequel blog article. Don’t miss Halley’s Surprise to learn about an intriguing aspect of Halley.

The Great Creator, the Lord God of the Bible, made His universe with great diversity, beauty, and complexity for His own glory. He created the comets.

Questions to Ponder

1. Why did God create comets? What could be their purpose?
2. Will you be watching for Halley’s next appearance in July 2061? If you have passed out of earthly life by then, do you know for sure where you will be?

Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.

For Christ and His Kingdom.
Alere Flammam Veritatis.
Soli Deo Gloria.

Read the prequel:
Curious Comets

Read the sequel:
Halley’s Surprise

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday September 14, 2022 A.D.

Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised,
And His greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of Your majesty
And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate.
(Psalm 145:3-5)

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  1. How interesting! It seems like I remember sitting on my porch and watching it in 1988. Was it another comet or am I mistaken? I look forward to the next episode.


    • Halley’s Comet was too far away to be visible to the naked eye in 1988. So either it was something else, or your memory is from 1986. Thanks for reading and commenting.


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