Comet Halley in the desert sky, 1986

Comet Halley, photographed from Las Campanas Observatory, March 1986

Peter Apian’s observations of Comet Halley in 1531

George W. Wetherill, director of the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, wrote these lines when he was in La Serena, Chile, in April 1986 to observe Comet Halley
Comet Halley—as a thing of nature and a thing of science, history, and art—has a special place in the conception of Project 2061. This new project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science was initiated in 1985 as a very  long-term project that would develop the intellectual tools to be used in bringing about significant and lasting improvements in science education nationwide. As it happened, Comet Halley was then making one of its periodic close visits. Its cycle of about 75 years approximates a human life span, which was the intended scale of the project. If that seems long, remember that it has been 65 years since the end of WWII, 53 years since the Sputnik shock, and 27 years since “A Nation at Risk” — and yet nationwide science literacy still eludes us. As I write this, 2061 is only 51 years away. Time to get moving.