THE RETURN OF HALLEY'S COMET by Patrick & John Mason Moore
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Wherefore, if accordingly to what we have already said, it should return again in the year 1758, candid posterity will not refuse to acknowledge that this was first discovered by an Englishman."" So wrote the proud Halley--deducing that the comet seen in the year 1531 was the same one seen in 1607 (described by Kepler) and, in 1682, by Halley himself. Posterity indeed rewarded the Astronomer Royal with eponymous fame, and the 76-year cycle of Halley apparitions comes round again in 1985/86. In this short work, astronomer Moore and colleague Mason have assembled a mass of comet-iana in general, and Halleyana in particular, along with many diagrams and photographs. They review the common wisdom: comets are essentially compactions of water-ice and dust (""dirty snowballs"") that begin to heat up as they approach the sun, generating spherical clouds known as comas; with further exposure to solar radiation pressure, comets give rise to curved dust tails. Believed to be residues of solar-system formation, comets contain a variety of atoms and molecules that include hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide, and other simple compounds and gases. The authors provide a brief, laudatory biographical sketch of Halley (among whose claims to fame is urging and underwriting the printing of Newton's Principia); a chronicle of past Halley visitations--with appropriate asides (the sighting of 11 B.C. was not the Star of Bethlehem, 837 A.D. was the most brilliant appearance, etc.); and calculations of orbits and other phenomena. The upcoming apparition will not be ideal because at its most brilliant the comet will be behind the sun. Data on optimum viewing times and places add to the lustre of the volume and its appeal for cometary buffs--more serious buffs then and those who'll seize upon Nigel Calder's lighter, showmanly The Comet Is Coming (1981).

Pub Date: April 30th, 1984
Publisher: Norton