Saturday, 22 July 2017
742 Halley's Comet : The Encounter
First viewed : 13 March 1986
One afternoon, in the academic year 1973-74, several of my class mates claimed to have seen a comet flying past the school window. By the time I got there, it had gone. I know now that whatever they saw , it certainly wasn't a comet and, as it was still daylight, it was unlikely to have been a meteorite either. Back then, I was gutted to have missed it and the sense of disappointment and determination to catch the next one lingered.
Therefore, I got very excited when the most famous comet of all , the one identified, by the astronomer whose name it bears, as a regular visitor to Earth every 74-79 years, came by once again in the autumn of 1985. After reading in the paper where to find it I went out on several nights , at least once accompanied by the infamous Pete, but we could see nothing. Of course, the light pollution from a city like Leeds is considerable but in fact, on this occasion, the comet was not visible to the naked eye from anywhere in the northern hemisphere so I missed out on my comet sighting again. I vowed to live until 96 in order to see it on its next visit. As both my parents died of strokes at the age of 71, that seems rather optimistic now.
However I did watch BBC One's live coverage of the comet's encounter with the Giotto space probe that was sent up to view it at close quarters a few months later. The pictures were computer-enhanced to make them a bit more comprehensible to the lay viewer. Frankly, it looked like an abstract school painting but Patrick Moore got very excited about it and that was good enough for me.
The happy ending here was provided by Comet Hale-Bop which I saw on a number of occasions in 1997 and happened to be in the sky when a certain event of personal significance took place. We'll leave it there I think.