Edmond Halley

Edmond Halley
Credit: R Phillips

Occupation: Astronomer and Mathematician

Year born: 1656

Research Areas: Comets, Transits, Stars, Maths, Geophysics

"In the year 1456 ... a Comet was seen passing Retrograde between the Earth and the sun... Hence I dare venture to foretell, that it will return again in the year 1758."

Source: A Synopsis of the Astronomy of Comets (1705), 22.

 

Early Life

Edmond was born in London, UK. When he was young, he was very interested in maths and astronomy. His wealthy family paid for his education and bought him a 24-foot-long telescope. Aged 17, went to Oxford University to study science.

Career Highlights

During his time at Oxford, Edmond met the UK’s Royal Astronomer, John Flamsteed. John had written a catalogue of all the stars in the Northern Hemisphere. This inspired Edmond to do the same for stars in the Southern Hemisphere. 

When he was 20, Edmond’s father paid for him to visit Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Here, Edmond set up an observatory and published his new star catalogue 2 years later. From Saint Helena, Edmond also made the first observation of the planet Mercury crossing the Sun. He worked out that he could use a similar transit of Venus to measure the size of the Solar System. 

Edmond’s work led to others recognizing him as an astronomer. Aged 22, he joined the Royal Society at a Fellow and got his degree from Oxford University. When he was 48, Oxford made him a professor. At the age 64, he became the UK’s Royal Astronomer.

Edmond focused a lot of his time and work on comets. Edmond showed that the observations of a comet in 1456, 1531, 1607 and 1682 were so similar, that it must have been the same comet returning time and time again. Using this data, he predicted the same comet would return in 1758. Sadly, he died in 1742, and so did not see the comet return on Christmas Day in 1758 to prove him right. The comet is now known as Halley's Comet.

Legacy

Along with Halley’s Comet, there are craters on the Moon and Mars named after Edmond. There is also Halley’s Research Station in Antarctica. 

Other Interests

Edmond learned Arabic and Ancient Greek and translated several books on science and maths.


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