When Will We See a Comet We Can Count On?

When Will We See a Comet We Can Count On?

Our hopes were high but the sun chewed up the Comet ISON like a snowball.  Maybe that's because most comets are just that.

Comet Hale-Bopp 1995O1.jpg

Comets have provided amazing spectacles that captivated us and was often the stuff of mythos and legend.  Our last significant event was the Comet Hale-Bopp.  It was clearly visible to the naked eye and was easy to observe through binoculars or a scope.  Unfortunately, more comets in our generation have proven to be more of disappointment than a spectacle.  

Comet Hale-Bopp (above) in 1997, was one of the best most recent comets (Image by: E. Kolmhofer, H. Raab; Johannes-Kepler-Observatory, Linz, Austria)


Most recently, the Comet ISON failed to deliver the display that many astronomers had anticipated.  Reportedly, it simply burned up when it came within 1 million miles of the sun.  That's actually very close, especially for an object largely made up of dust and ice.  But ISON wasn't the first to fail.  Earlier in the year the Comet PANSTARRS was highly anticipated but also proved to not live up to expectations, reaching around a magnitude of 2. This made it a binocular or telescope object to most people.


Comet PANSTARRS taken with a DSLR through a 5 inch telescope.

The Comet Kohoutek was another comet that promised much, but delivered little from a viewing perspective.  And then there was the much anticipated return of Halley's Comet in the 1980's.  Once again most of us missed it as it hovered like a barely visible, distance spot of dust on the western horizon.


It makes you wonder if we'll ever have a comet to look forward to in our generation.  The fact of the matter is quite a few are scheduled to show up in 2014 and beyond.  The big question is their visibility and intensity. 


The most significant cometary event for 2014 is an intersection of the "Comet Siding Spring" with the planet Mars next October.  While many astronomers are excited about the event, there is concern about the numerous probes in orbit and on the planet if the comet collides with the planet. You can find on more on the comet and Mars here.


Unfortunately, 2014 is predicted to be a slow year for comets in general, although another comet of note is the Comet 209P/LINEAR due to arrive in May of 2014.  At this time there is no indication that it will be visible to the naked eye, but you never know.


In the meantime, we'll all keep watching the skies and hope that an innocent, unannounced comet will burst to life in the night and give us all something to remember.

We can only dream of the next great comet, here is a list of 10 of the best comets of all time.

Find more on: Observing the Night Sky

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