Thirty Two Years Ago Today …

… Halley’s Comet Teaches Us a Thing or Two About Comets!

It was the last time Halley’s comet appeared in the inner solar system (where it won’t appear again for another forty-three years (in 2061). And it taught us a thing about comets. As per Wikipedia:

“During its 1986 apparition, Halley’s Comet became the first comet to be observed in detail by spacecraft, providing the first observational data on the structure of a comet nucleus and the mechanism of coma and tail formation.[15][16] These observations supported a number of longstanding hypotheses about comet construction, particularly Fred Whipple’s “dirty snowball” model, which correctly predicted that Halley would be composed of a mixture of volatile ices – such as water, carbon dioxide, and ammonia – and dust. The missions also provided data that substantially reformed and reconfigured these ideas; for instance, it is now understood that the surface of Halley is largely composed of dusty, non-volatile materials, and that only a small portion of it is icy.”

Why is this important? It’s not the only comet, and its not the only periodic comet. But considering this is likely the comet that showed us comets could break up, and throw off of asteroids, which many scientists believe was a primary cause of the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs, the insight it has provided us is scientifically vital. If an asteroid throw off of a comet was a major contributing factor in the dinosaur extinction, it’s something we don’t want to happen to us (provided we don’t climate change the planet to point its unliveable — after all, it’s already 2 minutes to midnight).

And why is this important to supply management? We rely on predictive algorithms every day, predictive algorithms which have their roots in interpolation algorithms developed by the early mathematical greats to, guess what, predict the periodic orbit of comets!