Halley’s comet is named after Edmond Halley (1656-1742), Britain’s second Astronomer Royal and a friend and colleague of Sir Isaac Newton.
AT nineteen, Edmond Halley was assistant to John Flamsteed, the Astronomer Royal at the Greenwich Observatory, and at twenty-two he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, in recognition of his work mapping constellations and observing weather patterns on the island of St Helena in the south Atlantic.
In 1705, Halley proposed that the comets sighted in 1456, 1531, 1607, and 1682 were all one, and accurately predicted the years in which what we now know as “Halley’s Comet” would return.
He also spent many hours at the bottom of the Thames in a primitive but ingenious diving bell, and wrote a paper on life expectancy which gave rise to the modern disciplines of actuarial science and demographics.
Nonetheless, Halley probably never did anything more important for science than call on Sir Isaac Newton in 1684.
His visit prompted the scatterbrained professor to collect his research and write Principia Mathematica, which Halley then published at his own expense. It was a book which would change the world for ever.