BBC Sky at Night Magazine
Promoted as a ‘Comet of the Century’, Kohoutek fell far short of expectations
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.