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This website only lists information on modern-day comets and meteor showers. The book, however, thoroughly investigates how specific ancient impacts and near misses changed religious beliefs around the world.

Sir Edmond Halley

1910 Halley's Comet


Edmond Halley's Childhood

It is thought that Edmond Halley was born on November 8, 1656. However, this information is uncertain. His father was Edmond Halley Sr., a wealthy salter and soapmaker. Records indicate that Edmond Halley Sr. married Edmond's mother only two month prior his birth.


Edmond's grandfather had been an alderman and owned a substantial amount of property in London.


Edmond attended St Paul's School, which burnt to the ground in the Great Fire that ravaged much of London from September 2 to September 5, 1666 consuming roughly 13,200 houses. The destruction included Edmond's school, St. Paul's. The family moved to Winchester Street in London, a very wealthy neighborhood. His mother died when Edmond was only fifteen.


Halley's interest in Astronomy

Halley's Comet 1910

Sir Edmond Halley

Credit: Painting by Thomas Murray


As a child, Edmond showed an intense interest in mathematic and astronomy. In 1673, at the age of seventeen, he attended the Queen's College, Oxford. As an undergrad, Halley wrote and published several astronomical papers.


In 1676, he visited Saint Helena in the South Pacific. The clear skies, void of pollution, made observation of the heavens ideal. Halley left Oxford and established an observatory on the island with the goal of charting the stars in the southern hemisphere. While on Saint Helena, Edmond Halley believed the transit of Venus could be used to determine the size of the solar system.


In May of 1678, he returned to England. A year later, he published his observations on 341 new southern stars. Halley received his M.A. degree from Oxford and for his contributions was already considered a minor astronomical circles, at least. In 1686, he published more information gathered from his Saint Helena expedition. They had nothing to do with stars, but instead with the monsoons, trade winds, solar heating and barometric pressure.


In 1682, Edmond Halley married Mary Tooke. The couple resided in Islington and had three children. Halley continued, of course, to be obsessed with astronomy. He spent most of his time observing the Moon, but was also interested in gravity.


In August of 1684, he traveled to Cambridge to meet with Isaac Newton and discuss Kepler's laws on planetary motion. The publication of Newton's Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica was financed by Halley in 1687. Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica contained the then revolutionary idea that comets obrited the Sun as did planets.


In 1705, Edmond Halley published Synopsis Astronomia Cometicae. The book included his calculations and belief that comets visible to the naked eye in 1456, 1531, 1607 and 1682 were all the same comet. He predicted this comet would return in early 1759. After a final glass of wine, Edmond Halley died on January 14, 1742 in Greenwich. He was eighty-five. His tombstone read "easily the prince of astronomers of his age". Sadly didn't live to see whether or not his prediction came true. When the comet returned on Christmas Eve,1758, it became popularly known as Comet Halley or Halley's Comet. It was later given a formal designation of 1P / Halley, meaning it was the "1"st comet to have its "P"eriodic orbit (the number of years it took to orbit the Sun) determined. It is perhaps, Edmond Halley's greatest legacy.


As of February 15, 2014, only 296 comets had their orbital “P”eriod definitively determined.



Other Contributions

Halley even contributed to many other sciences including archeoastronomy and diving.


Long before Jacque Cousteau and SCUBA, Halley conceived of a way to breathe while deep underwater. The device, called a "diving bell", used weighted barrels of air sent down from the surface to breathe. in 1691, he and five others demonstrated the device by diving 60 feet to the bottom of the River Thames and remaining there for an hour and a half. The diving bell was never used commercially as it was too bulky, but Halley continued to improve the device.