Edmond Halley was a British astronomer and mathematician who is best known for estimating Halley’s Comet’s orbit. He was born in London in the mid-seventeenth century to a wealthy soap-maker, and received his early education at St. Paul’s School, where he developed an early interest in astronomy. Later, while studying at Queens College, Oxford, he met John Flamsteed, and was inspired by his efforts to catalog northern stars, so he traveled to St Helena to compile a list of southern stars. He had a catalog of 341 stars when he returned to London, which he published as ‘Catalogus Stellarum Australium.’ It cemented his reputation as a distinguished astronomer, earning him a Royal Society fellowship and an M.A. from Oxford. He went on to make other major astronomical discoveries, eventually becoming Britain’s second Astronomer Royal. However, he was not only interested in astronomy and mathematics; he was also interested in archeology, medical abnormalities, general biology, geology, geography, physics, and engineering, and made substantial contributions in each of these subjects.
Childhood and Adolescence
Edmond Halley was born at Haggerston, East London, on November 8, 1656. Edmond Halley Sr., his father, was a wealthy soap manufacturer with a large amount of real estate in the city. He was also a freeman of the city and a member of the Salters’ Company.
Two months before Edmond Halley’s birth, Halley Sr. married Edmond’s mother, whose name is unknown. He had two more children with her, a daughter called Katherine and a son named Humphrey, after that. Edmund’s mother died when he was 15 years old, in 1672.
Edmond began his schooling at home with private tutors before enrolling at St. Paul’s School in 1671. He excelled in both mathematics and literature at this school. It was also here that he became interested in astronomy for the first time. His father supported him by purchasing a number of high-quality astronomical instruments.
Edmond Halley enrolled at Queens College, Oxford, in 1673. By this time, he had developed a strong interest in astronomy and had gained some knowledge in the field. He also had a vast collection of the best astronomical instruments. He brought them with him when he relocated to Oxford.
Around 1675, Halley met John Flamsteed, who was compiling a catalogue of northern stars at the Royal Greenwich Observatory at the time. Halley met him twice in Greenwich, where he briefly worked for him. It gave him the idea to build a list of southern celebrities.
He authored a number of publications on the Solar System and sunspots while at Oxford. One of these was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, London, on the occultation of Mars by the Moon on June 11, 1676. He, on the other hand, never finished his studies here.
St. Helena is one of the most beautiful islands in the world.
Edmond Halley left Oxford without a degree in November 1676 and set out for the island of St. Helena. While his father funded the project, he received King Charles II’s approval. Many well-known scientists, such as Brouncker and Jonas Moore, backed him up.
He built an observatory on Saint Helena, complete with a big sextant and telescopic sights. Despite the fact that severe weather delayed his job, Edmond Halley’s trip was mainly successful. He was able to record the exact position of 341 stars, in addition to making countless pendulum observations and identifying a star cluster in Centaurus.
Another of his significant accomplishments was observing Mercury’s transit through the solar disk on November 7, 1677. It inspired him to realize that using Kepler’s third rule and seeing a similar transit of Venus over the sun, he might calculate the size of the Solar System.
Return to the United Kingdom
In May 1678, Halley returned to England and published the results of his research as ‘Catalogus Stellarum Australium.’ Despite the fact that he was still a student and only twenty-two years old at the time, his reputation as an astronomer was quickly established, and awards began to flow in.
He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society on November 30, 1678, making him the Society’s youngest ever fellow. Following that, on the 3rd of December 1678, he got his M.A. degree from the University of Oxford without taking the degree examination, thanks to King Charles II’s intervention.
The Royal Society dispatched him to Danzig (Gdask) in 1679 to settle a dispute between two prominent astronomers, Johannes Hevelius and Robert Hooke. Havelius’ observations, which he made without using telescopes, were contested by Hooke. Halley confirmed Havelius’ observations after working on them for two months.
Halley initially refused to take a teaching position, preferring to be on his own. In 1680, he went on a European tour with a school mate, Robert Nelson. He saw a comet while staying near Calais. Later, he relocated to Paris, where he collaborated with Cassini to try to establish its orbit.
He travelled from France to Italy in 1681, where he resided for the majority of the year. When he returned, he began work on Kepler’s third law. He would, however, need some time before coming to any firm conclusions.
His father married for the second time in 1682, resulting in him providing less financial support. He must have developed his own financial means by then, for he not only married and raised a family, but he also concentrated on his scientific job at the same time.
When Kepler was working on his third law, he realized that it suggested the inverse square law of attraction. He presented the findings at a Royal Society meeting on January 24, 1684.
He then began working with Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke to see if the inverse square law of attraction could be used to establish that planets have elliptical orbits. But Halley was entangled in a personal tragedy before they could reach a conclusion.
Halley’s father was discovered dead in April 1684, after being missing for five weeks. Halley became more interested in the financial and legal aspects of his father’s inheritance. By August 1684, though, he was back to work, attempting to fix the dilemma.
With Newton’s help
Halley traveled to Cambridge in August 1684 to visit Isaac Newton. He, together with Halley, Wren, and Hooke, was attempting to determine what force kept the planets in orbit around the sun. Newton was the first to solve the problem among them.
He told Halley that the orbit would be an ellipse, but he couldn’t prove it because the calculation had gone missing. With Halley’s encouragement, he resumed work on it, gradually broadening his scope until completing his magnum opus, ‘Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica.’
Edmon Halley was named editor of the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions in 1685, and he held the position until 1693. He then attempted to have Newton’s work published by the Royal Society, but it lacked the necessary financial resources. Instead, they assigned the task to Halley.
Halley embraced the project wholeheartedly, not just editing and correcting the proofs, but also writing laudatory verse complimenting the author. Finally, in 1687, he had it printed with his own money, then sold it to recuperate his investment. He continued to publish his own work at the same time.
In 1686, he published at ‘Philosophical Transactions’ the second portion of the results of his observation in St. Helena. There was a globe map with the prevailing winds over the oceans on it. It was the first ever published meteorological chart.
Discoveries & Investigations
When the Savilian Chair of Astronomy at Oxford became vacant in 1691, Edmond Halley applied; however, he was denied the position due to his religious beliefs. Flamsteed, who had previously refused to acknowledge Halley’s contribution, was one of many important clerics who opposed his appointment.
In 1691, Halley constructed a diving bell and demonstrated it in the River Thames. In the same year, he introduced a crude functioning model of a magnetic compass and wrote a study critically evaluating old accounts of Julius Caesar’s initial landing in Britain.
In 1693, he proposed the concept of a “hollow earth.” He hypothesized that the earth is made up of an 800-kilometer-thick hollow shell with two concentric inner shells and an innermost core, separated by air layers. Each shell, he asserted, had its own magnetic poles.
The mortality data for Breslau were published in the Philosophical Transactions in 1693. It was a groundbreaking effort that attempted for the first time to link age and mortality in a population, influencing the development of actuarial tables in life insurance.
Halley began studying the orbits of comets in 1695. Although Newton assumed they had parabolic orbits, Halley suggested they could have elliptical orbits as well. As a result of his work, he was able to identify the comet that would subsequently be named after him.
As Warden of the Royal Mint in London in 1696, Newton named Halley as deputy controller of the Chester mint, a position Halley retained until its closure in 1698. Following that, William III appointed Halley as the commander of the battle ship Paramore Pink.
Halley cruised around in the Paramore Pink from 1698 to 1700, measuring compass declination throughout the South Atlantic and determining the latitudes and longitudes of each port he visited. It was one of the earliest marine journeys conducted solely for scientific purposes.
‘General Chart of the Variation of the Compass,’ published in 1701, was the result of his work. It was the first magnetic charts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, created not just from his personal observations but also from other available resources.
Halley was named Savilian professor of geometry at Oxford in 1704. Flamsteed again opposed to the position, but by that time Halley had become too famous for the objection to be effective.
In 1705, Halley published ‘A Synopsis of the Astronomy of Comets,’ which was the product of his research on comet orbits. He identified 24 comets with parabolic orbits seen between 1337 and 1698 in this book.
He studied Arabic in 1706 and finished translating various volumes from Latin that had been started by other authors such as Edward Bernard and David Gregory. In 1710, he published them, together with a reconstruction of Book VIII.
He created a method for monitoring Venus’ passage through the solar disc in 1716. He succeeded Flamsteed as Astronomer Royal four years later, in 1720. In the same year, he and William Stukeley sought to scientifically date Stonehenge. They were, however, off by a few thousand years.
Major Projects of Edmond Halley
Halley is well known for discovering what is now known as ‘Halley’s Comet.’ After much consideration, he came to the conclusion that the comet of 1682 had previously appeared in 1531 and 1607, and that the same comet had also appeared in 1305, 1380, and 1456.
He predicted that the comet will resurface in December 1758 in his 1705 work, ‘A Synopsis of the Astronomy of Comets.’ He did not, however, live to see his forecast come true. On December 25, 1758, the comet reappeared, but he was no longer visible.
Personal History and Legacy
Edmond Halley married Mary Tooke, the daughter of an Exchequer auditor, in 1682. They had three children: a son, Edmond Halley, and two daughters, Margaret and Richelle Halley. They lived in Islington, which is now a part of Greater London.
At the age of 85, Halley died on January 25, 1742. His two girls were his only survivors. His son Edmond, a navy surgeon at the time, died a year ago, and his wife died five years before him.
Halley was laid to rest in Lee’s old church, St Margaret’s. The tombstone was transported to Camera Obscura at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, when the original chapel was dismantled, while his designated burial remains in its original location.
He has two craters named after him, one on the moon and the other on Mars, in addition to the Halley’s Comet, which is formally designated as 1P/Halley.
Halley’s technique is the name given to a root-finding procedure in mathematics.
He has roads, schools, and cafes named after him all over the world, as well as a scientific research station managed by the British Antarctic Survey on the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica.
Estimated Net Worth
Edmond is one of the wealthiest mathematicians and one of the most well-known mathematicians. Edmond Halley’s net worth is estimated to be $2 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.