Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Halley Memories

The following is a posting from the old CompuServe service that I printed out when I was a subscriber in the early 1990s.  Since it was in a public forum and since I cannot find the author, I am assuming it is public domain.  I have added the images, which were not in the original post:

Halley's Comet, 1910 AD

Halley Memories
Submitted by Robert Morrell, 71513,1030

I wanted to share an experience, one that few of my friends could appreciate, but that I thought users of this forum would.

In 1986 I was working in a large hospital. Due to a manpower shortage I was asked to go up on the floors on weekends to collect blood specimens. Part of phlebotomy is patient identification, and part of all patient ID's is their age. This gave me an idea. Why not ask everyone over the age of 80 about their memory of Halley's comet, which had just made its muted appearance in the sky. Their viewing in 1910 was spectacular. If I couldn't enjoy this one at least I could listen to others.

The patients responded to the question enthusiastically. I was told of a comet like a kite across the sky, of a marvel and a wonder in an age before TV and radio, when sitting on the porch watching the wonders of the sky were the pastime of all, not an obscure few. One man, 97, told me of enjoying the sight tremendously.  When I asked him what he remembered thinking about it at the time, he said, "I remember thinking I would never live to see it again!" He was only slightly wrong.

The nucleus of Halley's Comet imaged by the European Space Agency Giotto Probe using the Halley Multicolor Camera, built by Ball Aerospace, 1986 AD

The best experience however, came when I approached an 84 year old woman and, while preparing her arm for the needle, asked her about the comet. She told me of watching from the porch of a large white house in the deep South. She described the wonder, and then as an aside, mentioned that she watched it with her great grandmother, who had seen Halley's the time before that, in 1834!  In that moment, in the predawn hours of a gloomy Sunday morning in 1986, our conversion stretched over 152 years.

Halley's Comet, drawn by Caroline Herschel, 1836 AD

I enjoyed Halley's much more after that. Even now when I look at the moon and stars, I see them a little differently. I see things my ancestors saw, pretty much as they saw them. (At least until they begin placing orbiting bill boards.)

When I looked at the humble Halley, I was seeing generations of mankind, one long life after another, connected, going back thousands of years.

Save this one and pass it around, maybe someone will come upon it in 2061.

Bob Morrell

Halley's Comet on the Bayeux Tapestry as seen during the Battle of Hastings, 1066 AD

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