A Brief Biography of Edmund Halley

By Tim Lambert

Edmund Halley was a great astronomer of the late 17th century and early 18th century. Edmund was born in London on 8 November 1656. His father was a wealthy soap-maker. Edmund went to St Paul’s School. In 1673 he went to Oxford University.

He left there in 1676 and sailed to the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic to chart stars in the Southern Hemisphere. While he was there Halley also observed a transit of Mercury across the Sun. He returned to England in 1678. The same year he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1680 Halley was in France where he observed a comet.

In 1682 Edmund Halley married his wife Mary. Then in 1686, he published a map of the world showing the prevailing winds. In 1687 Halley paid for Isaac Newton’s famous book Principia Mathematica to be printed. In 1704 Edmund became Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford.

Then in 1705, Halley published A Synopsis of the Astronomy of Comets. In it, he showed that comets sighted in 1531, 1607, and 1682 must all be the same comet returning at regular intervals. He predicted this comet would return in 1758. Then in 1716, he proposed a method of observing transits of Venus across the Sun to calculate the distance from the Sun to the Earth.

In 1720 Edmund Halley became Astronomer Royal. He died on 14 January 1742. After his death, the comet returned in 1758 as he had predicted. It was named Halley’s Comet after him.

There is a crater on the Moon named after Halley.