Resources for the Skies

Resources for the Skies

On Christmas Day in 1758, Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky, sighted by Johann Palizsch.  This time, though, its appearance had been predicted in advance by the man it would come to be named after, Edmond Halley, who realized the comet was subject to Newtonian laws of motion and successfully connected it to historical sightings of particularly impressive comets at roughly seventy-five year intervals.

Halley’s comet in 1835, from Popular Science Monthly vol. 76, 1910

Predicting other celestial phenomenon was well known – eclipses had been predictable for centuries.  Christopher Columbus, for example, had used the technique to intimidate the peoples of Jamaica into cooperation on his fourth trip to the Americas, in 1504; suggesting to them that he had much more power than he actually did.  But many cultures had employed the same skills for more benign purposes – the Chinese, for example, had successfully predicted eclipses for two millennia.  Other stellar phenomena, such as the motion of the planets, are similarly well documented.

Looking at Halley’s Comet by John James Chalon, 1835

Palitzsch was a farmer by trade, rather than a professional astronomer.  Two hundred and sixty-three years later, the average IU East student has far more astronomical knowledge and equipment available than he did.  As the nights grow longer, opportunities for stargazing and astronomical observation increase.  If you live in an area with a lot of ground lights obscuring the stars, greenspace on the IU East campus such as the field north of the Whitewater parking lot are accessible places to observe the sky directly.  If you are interested in comets or eclipses specifically, organizations like NASA and the Earthrise Institute offer practical calendars for them.

Halley’s Comet Photo No. AC86-0720-2, from NASA, 1986

For research, the library offers an impressive array of materials for a beginning astronomer.  Databases like ProQuest ScienceScience & TechnologyWiley Online Library, AccessScience, and AAAS/Science offer scholarly articles that can help with your own research, and the library includes several books on comets like Physics of Comets by K. S. Krishna Swamy or Comets and Their Origin: The Tools to Decipher a Comet by Uwe Meierhenrich.  It also offers lots of books dedicated more generally to observations of astronomical phenomena, such as Solar Activity: Observations and Predictions by Patrick S. McIntosh, A Skywatcher’s Year by Jeff Kanipe, Observing the Solar System: The Modern Astronomer’s Guide by Gerald North, or Exploration of near Earth Objects.  Any of these titles are a great place to get started.

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