Can you imagine a comet which was considered as ‘the comet of the century’? Yes, one such comet is Kohoutek. Formally designated as C/1973 E1, 1973 XII and 1973 f, it is a long period comet. However, it being called as the ‘comet of the century’ was a let–down because of the partial disintegration between the sun and the comet. Kohoutek’s previous apparition was about 150,000 years ago. During its first visit to the solar system, it contained large amounts of frozen volatiles. Although it did not brighten the levels, it was still visible through the naked eye.

Who discovered this comet?

The comet Kohoutek was discovered and named after a Czech astronomer Lubos Kohoutek on 7th March, 1973. He is known for discovering various comets and asteroids, one of which include Apollo asteroid 1865 Cerberus. His area of interest was physics and astronomy, which he studied at the universities in Brno and Prague.

What were the observations made about Kohoutek?

The observations include:

  • The comet was described by Lubos as diffused and condensed.
  • At great distances from the sun, it appears as a fuzzy object whereas when closer to the sun, the appearance changes and it appears to be bright at the centre.
  • William A Deutschman’s approach concluded that the magnitude by postperihelion was dimmer and decreased as compared to the magnitude before the perihelion.
What was the magnitude noted?

According to Lubos’ observation, the magnitude was about 14. But J.H. Bulgar from Harvard College Observatory, Agassiz station revised it to 15 based on his observation of the comet on 27th February.  Further investigation revealed the magnitude was not brighter than 18, but it was noted to be to be 19.5 in 1986.

What was its perihelion distance?

The perihelion distance was 1.57 AU and was decreased to 0.142 AU when it passed Jupiter. Various other calculations were made that revised the distance to 2.51 AU.

What was the orbital period noted?

The orbital period of this comet was 6.23 years

Did the comet reappear or was recovered?

The comet was recovered on 30th July, 1986 by T. Gehrels and J.V. Scotti. It was last seen on 19th May 1988.

Did it encounter any planet?

Kohoutek encountered earth and was closest to it on 13th January, 1988 with a magnitude of around 13. It is also expected to encounter Jupiter in 2032.

Is it expected to reappear?

The comet is expected to reappear in 2014, 2021 and 2027.

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