It’s Not a Bird…It’s Not a Plane… It’s Halley’s Comet – The Man and His Discovery

The Story of Edmond Halley

Edmond Halley, the English mathematician, and astronomer who calculated the orbit of a comet only to be named after him, later on, was born on 8th November 1656 in Hagerstown in East London.

His father ran a soap making business from Derbyshire. His father faced financial turmoil after the fire of London but was still capable of providing an excellent education to his son. He was only ten then and was taught at home before being sent to St. Paul. This was the place where Edmond showed his skills. He liked mathematics ever since he was a child.

Halley entered Oxford when he was just 17 years old. By then, he was already an expert astronomer with a good collection of instruments bought by his father. As an undergraduate, he published papers on sunspots and solar system. It was while studying at Oxford University; he met John Flamsteed, the astronomer royal in 1695. He was influenced by Flamstead’s project on Northern stars and proposed to accomplish the same for the Southern Hemisphere. For this, he visited the South Atlantic island of St. Helena in 1676. He came back in January 1678 after recording the celestial latitudes and longitudes of 341 stars. In addition to this, he made a note of the transit of Mercury across the Sun’s desk. His work was the first of its kind and led him to be elected as a fellow of the Royal Society. He was only 22 years old.

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Edmond HalleySource: rmg.co.uk

For his voyage to St, Helena, Halley was financially supported by his father and King Charles II. Although he didn’t get graduated from the Oxford, he earned a reputation of one of the leading astronomers of the time. Around this time, Halley married Mary Tooke in 1682 and settled down in Islington.

Marriage brought in responsibilities, but his father’s remarriage meant disaster for him. The financial support dried up. The sudden demise of his father involved Halley in legal, family and property matters. He wasn’t wealthy anymore which forced him to apply for an academic post, but faced opposition from Flamstead and a few others. This didn’t stop him. He remained at the Royal Society. In the years to come, he played various roles in the Society.