Jan 052013

Life is full of disappointments. One that has grated on me for decades is the lack of a decent comet. I can just barely vaguely remember people being cheesed off about Kohoutek… it was hyped, but failed to deliver. Then Halley, which I was unable to see even with a telescope. The supposedly Great Comets Hyukatake and Hale-Bopp were dismal failures… sure, I could see ’em with the naked eye, but only if I knew exactly where to look and didn’t mistake ’em for faint wisps of smoke. Feh.

Two comets have been recently discovered that will round the sun in 2013, and the press is already trying to ramp up excitement.

Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) was discovered in 2011, and will round the sun March 10, 2013. it will be low in the sky for those in the northern hemisphere, but will get higher as it moves away from the sun.  It might put on a show. See the JPL orbit diagram HERE.

C/2012 S1 (ISON) has the potential to be spectacular. Discovered last September, its orbit indicates that it is an Oort cloud object on its very first fall around the sun, which *should* mean that it is loaded with frozen volatiles such as water, ammonia, etc. It’s also coming incredibly close to the sun… perihelion on November 28 will be only about 700,000 miles from the surface of the sun, which should roast the hell out of the thing. On it’s way out, it will pass about 0.42 AU from Earth on December 26… nicely visible from the northern hemisphere. And then on January 14, 2014, Earth will pass through the orbit of the comet, which may result in a meteor shower. See the JPL orbit diagram HERE.

ISON has the greater potential for awesomeness. Additionally, the orbital elements are similar to those of the Great Comet of 1680, which is an encouraging sign.

 Posted by at 10:28 pm
  • LordJim

    You must have pretty bad eyesight if you thought Hale-Bopp was a dismal failure. What do you want? Being able to read by comet light?

    • Anonymous

      I lived near Denver at the time, and could barely see it even in the mountains. I know other people thought it was pretty good, but for some reason I just didn’t get much out of it.

  • se jones

    Yeah, keeping fingers crossed.

    Seeing the splotches from Shoemaker–Levy 9 on Jupiter through the Meyer-Womble telescope on Mt.Evans was a once in many life-times thing.

    Now rooting for, in order of probability:
    -Big Lunar impact
    -A Tharsis Montes eruption
    -Betelgeuse supernova
    -Aliens come a-calling

    • Anonymous

      #’1 1 and 3 are near 100% probabilities (unless, of course, you mean “in my lifetime”). #2 seems close to 0% (ain’t Mars dead?) and #4 is a great big “dunno.”

      • se jones

        >(ain’t Mars dead?)

        Oh no, there are fresh (within a couple of million years – yesterday to a geologist) lava flows in some of the Tharsus volcanoes and fresh explosive steam events near the north pole.

        A grad student over at SWRI has written some great software for automated crater counting in MOC images so the dates are being refined even more. She will publish soon and it’s encouraging.

        We will know with much more certainty after data comes down from “InSight” in 2016.

        I would not be shocked to see a new eruption in my lifetime, the odds aren’t high, but they are not zero.



  • publiusr

    Hyukatake was better than Hale-Bopp to me. Smaller but closer. I could see a very long pale blue tail.