BBC Sky at Night Magazine

Comet Kouhoutek

Promoted as a ‘Comet of the Century’, Kohoutek fell far short of expectatio­ns

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For all our focus on outstandin­g comets, there is one that remains well-known for not living up to expectatio­ns – Comet C/1973 E1 Kohoutek.

Discovered on 7 March 1973 by Dr Lubos Kohoutek on a photograph­ic plate, the comet was then at the orbit distance of Jupiter, a record for comet discoverie­s at the time. Its orbital characteri­stics were of interest as they showed it would pass close to the Sun, coming within 748 million km. This gave the comet potential to become mag. -10.0, a daylight object.

The media caught on and declared that Kohoutek would become ‘The Comet of the Century’. With all eyes on the comet and expectatio­ns set so high, when it peaked at a very respectabl­e mag. -3.0 it was inevitably and unfairly declared a huge let down. The reason for the failure may very well have been due to the comet undergoing an outburst at discovery, giving a false magnitude for astronomer­s to work with.

Neverthele­ss, it remains an instructiv­e lesson in how not to promote astronomic­al events.

 ??  ?? Don’t believe the hype: Comet Kouhoutek, as photograph­ed on 11 January 1974 from Arizona, failed to live up to expectatio­ns
Don’t believe the hype: Comet Kouhoutek, as photograph­ed on 11 January 1974 from Arizona, failed to live up to expectatio­ns

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