Edmond Halley and the Distance of the Sun
Of all the personalities in the history of astronomy, Edmond Halley is surely one of the most charismatic. But for the fact that he was contemporary with Isaac Newton, he would be remembered as the greatest astronomer of the 17th and 18th centuries. Mathematically, of course, he was not the equal of Newton-who was? — but in every other way Halley was superior. We remember him best in connection with the comet which bears his name, and which last visited us in 1986, but this was only one of Halley’s achievements, and a very minor one at that. He was very much in the mould of what we would today call an all-rounder; his interests ranged from pure science to surveying, military fortifications and even undersea exploration — he went so far as to build, and test, a primitive sort of submarine. It was Halley who persuaded Newton to write the immortal Principia, and he even paid for its production. He became Astronomer Royal in 1720, in succession to John Flamsteed, and remained in the post until his death in 1742.
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