Halley’s Comet is the most famous comet of all time, and it’s finally headed back towards the sun. The comet reached its aphelion on December 8, marking the furthest distance that its long orbit takes it away from the sun. Now, it’s finally turned back toward the sun for the first time in 38 years.
The comet takes roughly 76 years to complete an orbit, NASA says, with the comet traveling beyond the orbit of Neptune to reach its aphelion. Its last perihelion, the closest point to the sun, was back in 1986. Since then, the comet has been slowing and was traveling at just 2,034 miles per hour when it hit its aphelion this year.
Now, though, reports indicate that the comet will begin to pick up speed again. When Halley’s Comet reached its perihelion back in 1986, it was traveling at a staggering 121,572 miles per hour—a far cry from what it’s traveling at right now. Further, reports say that the comet will offer quite the spectacle for skywatchers as it nears its perihelion.
The unfortunate news, though, is that you’ll need to wait until 2061 for a chance to see the iconic comet. However, reports from Space.com say that its appearance in the sky should be a mirror image of its appearance in 1986, making it exceptionally easy to see, especially considering the advancements that skywatching equipment has had in the past several decades.
Obviously, we’ll be waiting a while still for Halley’s Comet to come close enough to see from Earth with regular skywatching equipment, 38 years or so to be exact. Still, it’s awesome to know that this opportunity is coming up again. The comet has long been an icon for skywatchers, and the debris trail that it leaves behind continues to wow skywatchers each year when the Orionid meteor shower leaves streaks of fire across our skies in October.