Here’s a date you might recognise: 1066. That’s the year that Halley’s comet made a rare appearance in the sky, one of only a dozen or so in the last millenium. Its 76-year orbit means that most people will only get to see it once in their lives, so it was quite an event even when it last appeared in 1986.
Space and history are as inextricably linked as Halley’s comet from the Battle of Hastings, which makes All About History, the new magazine from the makers of All About Space and How It Works, the perfect complementary read to anyone interested in space: by learning about history, we can learn more about space and vice-versa.
All About History magazine is available now for just £3.99 from imagineshop.co.uk and all good newsagents. It’s packed with facts and insight into the past, with expert knowledge and eyewitness accounts of the most famous events in recent history.
Meanwhile, nearly 1,000 years ago in feudal England, Halley’s comet also caused a big stir. The bright new ‘star with long hair’ was taken as a bad omen for King Harold, who had broken his oath to King William of France and was considered to have incurred the wrath of God. The story has it that Harold later took an arrow in the eye at the battle of Hastings and was killed, clearing the way for William to seize control of England.
Regardless of whether anyone knew what Halley’s Comet really was back in the Eleventh century, it was still deemed important enough to record on one of the most famous artifacts in history, the Bayeux Tapestry:
History is punctuated with records of this comet: on this 2,000-year old cuneiform tablet from Babylon:
In Giotto’s 1305 painting of the Adoration of the Magi (top):
And more recently, the records of its namesake Edmond Halley, who correctly predicted its return in 1759 and at regular periods thereafter.
That’s just one comet too, our relatively short period of recorded history is replete with examples of curious astronomical events, from the supernova designated SN1006 that was so bright that for several weeks, people around the world could read by its light at nighttime, to the discovery of Gamma-Ray Bursts in the sixties, detected by US spy satellites and initially thought to be a new type of Russian nuclear weapon.