Comet Kohoutek

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C/1973 E1(Kohoutek)
Comet-S74-17688.jpg
A color photograph of the comet Kohoutek taken on 11 January 1974.
Discovery
Discovered byLuboš Kohoutek
Discovery date7 March 1973
Alternative
designations
"Comet of the Century"
Orbital characteristics A
Epoch1973-Dec-24
Perihelion0.1424 AU
Eccentricity1.000008
(drops below 1 in 1977)
Inclination14.3
Last perihelion1973-Dec-28
 
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There are two other long-period comets named Kohoutek: C/1969 O1 (a.k.a. 1970 III, 1969b), and C/1973 D1 (a.k.a. 1973 VII, 1973e). This comet should also not be confused with the short period comet 75D/Kohoutek.
C/1973 E1(Kohoutek)
Comet-S74-17688.jpg
A color photograph of the comet Kohoutek taken on 11 January 1974.
Discovery
Discovered byLuboš Kohoutek
Discovery date7 March 1973
Alternative
designations
"Comet of the Century"
Orbital characteristics A
Epoch1973-Dec-24
Perihelion0.1424 AU
Eccentricity1.000008
(drops below 1 in 1977)
Inclination14.3
Last perihelion1973-Dec-28
Orbits of Comet Kohoutek and Earth
Kohoutek-uv
False color image of Comet Kohoutek as photographed with the far-ultraviolet electrographic camera during a Skylab spacewalk on December 25, 1973.

Comet Kohoutek, formally designated C/1973 E1, 1973 XII, and 1973f, was first sighted on 7 March 1973 by Czech astronomer Luboš Kohoutek. It attained perihelion on 28 December that same year.

Comet Kohoutek is a long-period comet; its previous apparition was about 150,000 years ago, and its next apparition will be in about 75,000 years.[1] At its apparition in 1973 it had a hyperbolic trajectory (e > 1) due to gravitational perturbations from giant planets. Due to its path, scientists theorized that Kohoutek was an Oort-cloud object. As such, it was believed that this was the comet's first visit to the inner Solar System, which would result in a spectacular display of outgassing. Infrared and visual telescopic study have led many scientists to conclude, in retrospect, that Kohoutek is actually a Kuiper-belt object, which would account for its apparent rocky makeup and lack of outgassing.[2]

Before its close approach, Kohoutek was hyped by the media as the "comet of the century". However, Kohoutek's display was considered a let-down,[3] possibly due to partial disintegration when the comet closely approached the sun prior to its Earth flyby. Since this was probably the comet's first visit to the inner Solar System, it would have still contained large amounts of frozen volatiles since its creation. Although it failed to brighten to levels expected, it was still a naked-eye object. Its greatest visual magnitude was -3, when it was at perihelion, 0.14 AU (21,000,000 km; 13,000,000 mi) from the Sun. Its orbital inclination is 14.3°. Its best viewing was in the night sky after perihelion, when it had dimmed to fourth magnitude. The comet also sported a tail up to 25° long, along with an anti-tail.

C/1973 E1 should not be confused with the periodic comet 75D/Kohoutek, which can also be called "Comet Kohoutek" (as could the comets C/1969 O1 and C/1973 D1, also discovered by Luboš Kohoutek as sole discoverer).

This comet was observed by the crew of Skylab 4 and Soyuz 13, thus becoming the first comet to be observed by a manned spacecraft.

Impact on popular culture[edit]

Because Comet Kohoutek fell far short of expectations, its name became synonymous with spectacular duds. However, it was fairly bright as comets go and put on a respectable show in the evenings shortly after perihelion.

In 1973, David Berg, founder of the Children of God, predicted that Comet Kohoutek foretold a colossal doomsday event in the United States in January 1974.[4][5] Children of God members distributed Berg's message of doom across the country. The majority of U.S.-based members then fled in anticipation to existing communes, or formed new ones, around the world.

Comet Kohoutek inspired numerous musicians and other artists:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]