A Comet, a Star, and Mars
By Donna Kay Malloy
Stefano De Rosa sends this picture from the shores of Viverone lake in Turin, Italy: "Super bright Venus popped out of the twilight first, followed minutes later by Mars and Saturn," says De Rosa. "The sight of the lovely celestial triangle over the calm water of the lake was really great!"
Growing up, my Sicilian Grandmom, Catharine Baiada, would say: "Surround yourself with smart people."
Although English astronomer Edmund Halley was born before my grandmother's time, he did instinctively practice her philosophy by befriending Isaac Newton, and in 1705 implemented Newton's new theory of gravitational pull to determine the orbit of comets from their recorded positions in the sky as a function of time.
Executing gravitational calculations, Halley ascertained that the bright comets of 1531, 1607, and 1682 had approximately the same orbits, thus concluding that they were one and the same comet. The comet's most renowned appearance was before the Battle of Hastings in 1066 AD, an event commemorated in the famous Bayeux Tapestry.
Edmund Halley predicted the illustrious comet would return in the sky in 1758. On Christmas Eve, 1758, the comet did appear in the winter sky. Unfortunately, Halley did not live to see his prediction tested because he died in 1742. His posthumous Christmas present was the naming ever after of this comet as Halley's Comet.
Another famous person closely linked with Halley's Comet was Huckleberry Finn's creator Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka-Mark Twain. Born in Florida, Missouri, on November 30, 1835, Twain was America's chief man of letters, as well as the foremost American philosopher of his day.
A frail child, Samuel eventually outlived his two healthier siblings Margaret and Benjamin, but Twain's childhood memories of growing up in Hannibal on the Mississippi River are forever memorialized in the well-known character of Tom Sawyer.
According to Twain's autobiography, "I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'"
Halley's Comet passed on November 10th of 1835; Twain was born 20 days later on November 30th, 1835. Seventy-five years later, Halley's Comet again passed on April 20th, 1910; Twain died the next day on April 21st.
Halley's Comet last appeared in the inner Solar System in 1986, and it will next appear in mid-2061, fifty-one years from today. Not to worry stargazers; on August 8th you can enjoy viewing the three planets of Mars, Saturn, and Venus in close proximity. Venus will be brighter than Mars and Saturn by August 12th and on August 13th a slender crescent moon will hug the trio of planets. Venus will be the brightest, Saturn the next brightest, and Mars will be smaller and fainter. For more information, NASA offers some great monthly viewing tips in their What's Up Podcast.
Although not as dramatic as in 2003, when Mars was closer to Earth than at any time in nearly 60,000 years (and will not repeat this position again until August 28, 2287), Mars' rusty twinkle as the fourth rock from the sun will still be a site to see.
To put time into perspective, my two grandbabies Julia and Scarlett will be in their early 50's when Halley's Comet makes its next appearance in the night sky in the year 2061. As for me, although Grandmom Baiada lived to the ripe old age of 97 years, I would have to live to 109 years old to view Halley's next sighting.
Grandmom Baiada was born in 1886 in a small village in Sicily where travel was by horse and buggy. In her lifetime, she experienced the infancy of radio, television, automobiles, airplanes, spaceships, computers, and cell phones. Her life spanned 16 presidents of the United States, from Grover Cleveland, the 22nd President of the United States, to Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States. (I'll have to admit that she did like President Nixon.)
If Grandmom Baiada was alive today, she would have appreciated that I can now surround myself with smart people from around the world with just a click on my wireless computer.
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