November 8: Halley And His Comet

Digital StillCameraEdmond Halley, who is credited with discovering the periodicity of a comet that had been seen by stargazers since prehistoric times, was born on this day in 1656. Logically, that comet, the first to be recognized as a periodic comet, would later be given the name Halley’s Comet.

Now, as I mentioned, the comet had been orbiting the Earth for centuries before Halley identified its periodicity. The comet was observed by early Chinese, Babylonian and medieval European astronomers, and a possible reference to it even appears in the Talmud, in a passage that mentions “a star which appears once in seventy years that makes the captains of the ships err.” However Halley was able to determine that all of these comet sightings were of the same comet. In 1705, Halley noticed that a comet that had been spotted in 1682 had a near similar orbit to comets that were seen in 1607 and 1531. Logically, Halley determined that these three comets were in fact all the same comet, and that it would return every 75 to 76 years.

He then predicted that the comet would return in 1758. Unfortunately, Halley died in 1742, so he was not alive to see his prediction proven right when Johann Georg Palitzsch, a German farmer and amateur astronomer, saw the comet on Christmas night in 1758. French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille would officially name the comet in Halley’s honor in 1759. Halley’s Comet last past the Earth in 1986, and is expected to return in July of 2061.

So, since it’s going to be another 48 years before Halley’s Comet, how about a little drink to pass the time? The Comet is a fascinating crossbreed of the Sidecar and the Rusty Nail. It takes the cognac and citrus juice from the Sidecar (subbing lime juice in for lemon juice) and borrows the Drambuie from the Rusty Nail. Toss in a little chilled mineral water to give the drink the proper comety sparkle, and you’ve got yourself a drink.

Comet

  • 2 ounces Cognac or Brandy
  • 1/2 ounce Drambuie
  • 1/4 ounce lime juice
  • 1/4 ounce mineral water

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled goblet. Garnish with a lemon zest.

Tomorrow: Two great hoaxes, both of which happened in New York City in 1874.

 

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