Today’s Factismal: Halley’s comet was first observed by Chinese astronomers 2,252 years ago today.
Most of the time, when people think about the vastness of space, they think about how “hugely mindbogglingly big” it is. But there’s another aspect to space that is brought out by episodic events like the appearances of Halley’s comet; space is also hugely mindbogglingly long. Mankind has been observing Halley’s comet for more than two millennia, and expects to go on watching it return every 76 years for the next fifteen thousand. And even after Halley’s comet has finally broken into pieces, we’ll get an biannual reminder of the comet when we pass through its debris in the Orionids in late October and the Eta Aquariids in early May.
But Halley’s comet is hardly the only comet in the skies. We’ve already had two naked-eye comets that could be seen this year (comet Pan-STARRS and comet Lemmon) and have even seen the two together in the night sky! And the best may be yet to come; in November, we expect to see comet ISON which may outshine the Moon! Then again, it may be another comet Khahoutek – early promises and little light.
Even if the comets disappoint, there are many, many other wonders in the night sky that won’t. From Saturn’s rings (visible with a pair of binoculars!) to Jupiter’s moons (ibidem) to the ice caps of Mars to the spiral splendor that is Andromeda, the night sky is full of glorious things to see. If you’d like a guided tour, then try the World Wide Telescope Ambassadors. And if you’d like to give others a tour, then they’d love to have you!