ROUGHLY EVERY 75 years throughout much of recorded history, Halley's comet has blazed across the sky, ignited mankind's imagination and prompted scientific speculation, religious awe and outright fear. Besides research, it has inspired contemplation and communication, expressed through paintings, tapestries, poetry, and books . . . especially books. The comet's 1986 appearance has led to a shower of publications, with at least some of them suitable for every reader. The following is a sample.
Halley's Comet: A Bibliography, compiled by Ruth S. Freitag (Library of Congress, $26). This ultimate resource for the scholar in 585 pages lists 3,289 annotated references to both popular and scientific literature on the comet. The works cited include many in European and some Oriental languages. The book also contains a historical introduction, 20 illustrations, as well as indexes of names and topics.
The New York Times Guide to the Return of Halley's Comet, by Richard Flaste, Holcomb Noble, Walter Sullivan, John Noble Wilford (Times Books, $16.95; paperback, $7.95). The Times' galaxy of science writers combine their talents to give a crisp review. The book's novel appendix -- excerpts from The Times' 1910 coverage of the comet -- will delight science and history buffs alike.
Asimov's Guide to Halley's Comet, by Isaac Asimov (Walker, $12.95). This guide is classic Asimov -- terse and clear, well suited for a general audience.
Halley's Comet, by Donald Tattersfield (Basil Blackwell, $12.95; paperback, $6.50). Although this book may have been intended for the lay reader, it assumes prior knowledge and reads like a freshman textbook. But it may help the serious amateur astronomer with its stress on computer applications.
Halley's Comet Finder, by Ben Mayer (Perigee, paperback, $5.95). This book clearly will aid amateur stargazers by providing Halley's path plotted on constellation maps and simple suggestions for photographing the comet.
Halley's Comet, 1910: Fire in the Sky, by Jerred Metz (Singing Bone Press, P.O. Box 1650, St. Louis, Mo. 63188, $13.95; paperback, $6.95). In its almost exclusive focus on the comet's 1910 appearance, this book is different from all the rest. From popes and kings to astronomers and poets, Jerred Metz quotes them all. Also included are sheet music covers and post cards, cartoons and ads.
The Comet and You, by E. C. Krupp (Macmillan, $12.95; ages 6-9). A book, written and illustrated expressly for young children, to help them and their parents appreciate this phenomenon. And consider: A youngster who sees it in 1986 may live to see it again . . . in 2061.