Halley's Comet

November 25, 1985

Report Outline
Preparing for the Visit
Myths and Discovery
Searching for Answers
Special Focus

Preparing for the Visit

Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience for Most

Halley's Comet is not just any celestial streaker. Astronomers have identified nearly 1,000 other comets; billions more are thought to orbit the sun at the outer fringe of the solar system. But none has been viewed from Earth with the regularity and few have shone with the brilliance of Halley's (rhymes with alleys), now headed for its 30th consecutive recorded appearance in the nighttime sky. Amateur astronomers in the United States will first see it in November, but best viewing with the naked eye will occur next spring. Halley's is all the more special because it arrives roughly every 76 years, making it a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most viewers.

Halley's 1985–86 visit has become the international scientific event of the decade. “There will be times when Halley's is so close to us that 200 of the world's best telescopes will be observing it at the same time,” said Raymond Newburn of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. An armada of five spacecraft will rendezvous with the comet in March. They promise to provide more scientific data than scientists could ever hope to glean from telescopic observations.

Halley's arrival is keenly awaited by millions around the world, most of whom have never seen a comet. Stories of Halley's startling brilliance on past visits can only heighten the disappointment many will experience this time. Astronomers warn it will be only a pale version of its legendary brilliance because of its greater distance from the Earth.

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