This image depicts a photo - taken in April, 1986 - of Halley's Comet as it crosses the Milky Way.
Mark Twain, the famous American writer, was born during an appearance of Halley's Comet (in 1835). He predicted that he would die when the comet next appeared:
I came in with Halley's Comet... It is coming again ... and I expect to go out with it... The Almighty has said, no doubt: “Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.”
And ... they did.
Twain died on the 21st of April, 1910 at about the time when Halley's Comet was becoming visible to people on Earth.
How often is Halley's Comet visible to people on Earth? When was it first recorded? When it nears Earth, why is its passage called "perihelion?"
NASA answers the first question (and provides us an interesting look into how the Comet will be closely observed during the coming years).
NASA also answers the second question ... when was Halley's Comet first recorded?
The comet's appearance has since been traced back as long ago as 240 B.C. in ancient Chinese documents.
The third question references the word "perihelion." What does that word mean? It's a great term, with Greek origins, which means when an object (including a comet) is "closest to the Sun."
Will Halley's Comet last forever?
With each orbit around the Sun, a comet the size of Halley loses an estimated 1 to 3 meters (3 to 10 feet) of material from the surface of its nucleus. Thus, as a comet ages, it eventually dims in appearance and may lose all the ices in its nucleus. The tails disappear at that stage, and the comet finally evolves into a dark mass of rocky material or perhaps dissipates into dust.
A 5th perihelion passage, of the famous Comet, was apparently recorded on January 26, in 66 A.D.
Click on the image for a better view.
NASA image No. AC86-0720-2. Photo online, courtesy NASA.
NASA quotes, about Halley's Comet, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory: "Comet Halley Summary."
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