Haley’s Comet still remembered 15 years later


    By Eric Christensen

    From far below, it appeared to quietly needle its path across the sky on that spring afternoon; but high above, the “dirty snowball” was drilling through space at upwards of 80,000 mph.

    Today marks the 15-year anniversary of the day when people across the world took five minutes to stop and try to see Haley”s Comet make its 76-year flyby.

    In the past, Haley”s Comet has been made into an arcade game, a dance step and even a band — Bill Haley and his Comets.

    But thinking back, where were you Thursday, March 13, 1986?

    Most students were probably stomping around the elementary school in their jellies or topsiders, decorated from head to toe with the likes of hot pink and turquoise and clad in Esprit and Maui & Son”s.

    “Our school got to go up to Hansen Planetarium early in the morning to try and see it,” said Jason Williams, 25, from Sandy, Utah, attending Salt Lake Community College.

    “I saw it up close and personal through a high-powered telescope,” he said. “I remember it looking so calm and surreal.”

    Hansen Planetarium public relations coordinator Susan Harris remembers the day vividly.

    “I was on vacation in the (U.S.) Virgin Islands,” she said. “I stood there on the beach with waves crashing, watching it through a telescope. It was incredible.”

    Physics and astronomy professor J. Ward Moody recalls being in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the show.

    “I saw it from the University of New Mexico,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was difficult to see from the northern hemisphere. It was best viewed from the southern hemisphere at evening or night.”

    A comet is only visible during dark because it emits light from the sun, Moody said.

    “Comets are conglomerates of dust, rock and ice,” he said. “When the comet gets close to the sun, it begins to melt leaving the tail we see.”

    Therefore, comets do not have a tail when traveling through space, Moody said.

    Travelers lucky enough to be in the southern hemisphere like former Brazilian missionary Scott Paulson, were treated to a scientific phenomenon.

    “I was in Rio (de Janeiro, Brazil) on my mission in 1986 when the comet traveled by,” he said. “I remember it looking like a big version of a shooting star going across the sky.”

    Making its gigantic orbit around the sun, Haley”s Comet is scheduled to return in 2061.

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