Lesson #355: Why Halley’s Comet Returns

I have a very distinct memory of being five or six and my mother waking me and my brother up in the middle of the night* and driving us out into the middle of nowhere, where it was cold, to meet up with some friend of hers who had a telescope. She wanted us to see Halley’s comet. I found out, years later, that my father thought this plan somewhat foolish because my brother, who is two years younger, and I were so young he doubted we’d remember it. But I think it’s cool that she took us because she wanted to give us the chance to see it once. If we’re lucky, we’ll see it again (I’ll be 81 the next time it swings by), but we’ve seen it once, and that’s once more than most people I know.

I got here via this io9 article about what the Star of Bethlehem might actually have been — since it wasn’t likely a random star that appeared to be all “hey dudes, over here!” to the Wise Men. It’s interesting reading if you have a few minutes to spare.

But really, whatever it said was secondary to my thought of “where does Halley’s comet go in the interim?”

Well, it turns out the comet has its own orbit around the sun. It shoots out pretty much perpendicular to the orbits of the planets, out beyond Neptune’s orbit and then makes its way back.

Space.com has a really, really good primer on Halley’s comet that you can read here.

*In reality, it was probably like 10.

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