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During the recent holiday season, while doing a bit of housecleaning, I came across a relic from 46 years ago:. a Christmas card from 1973 celebrating the impending arrival of what was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime sight — a dazzling comet, the Comet Kohoutek (C/1973 E1).
I looked at the card and let out a small sigh.
Age - Name - Kohoutek - Spectacle - Months
For those of a certain age, the name "Kohoutek" will always be linked to the celestial spectacle that never was. Christened for months as "The Comet of the Century," the object never came remotely close to living up to expectations. As one of my fellow stargazing compatriots later commented: "It was one of the few comets that came with a fuse attached to it; it was a bomb of unbelievable proportions."
Comet Kohoutek was discovered at Hamburg Observatory in Germany by astronomer Dr. Lubos Kohoutek (pronounced "Ko-ho-tek") on March 7, 1973, while he was making photographic observations of asteroids. When first sighted, the comet was some 465 million miles (748 million kilometers) from the sun, out near the orbit of Jupiter (although nowhere near the planet itself). At the time, this was a record farthest distance for the discovery of a comet, and it was then relatively bright, as far as comets go, for being so far from the sun. The hope was that if it was so bright and unusual then, it would continue to be bright and unusual as it neared the sun.
But it merely remained unusual rather than getting bright.
The first predictions indicated that Kohoutek would become visible to the naked eye in early November, in the early morning sky, and brighten to second magnitude (as bright as Polaris, the North Star) by Thanksgiving, and then become as bright as the planet Jupiter (magnitude -2) by mid-December. On Dec....
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