Comet Kohoutek

February 17, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Given some excitement over the currently fairly bright comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), popularly known as the Green Comet, I was reminded that almost a half century ago, another comet, Kohoutek (currently designated C/1973 E1) was a sensation in late 1973 and into 1974. Early predictions were that it would become very bright near its close encounter with the Sun (perihelion). Media reports talked about the 'comet of the century!' Of course as these things happen, those predictions didn't come to pass, but it was still one of the brighter comets at that time.

I was an undergraduate astronomy major at Indiana University then so very engaged. I even managed to get an image of it using the old 10-inch astrograph (photographic telescope) that the IU Astronomy Department operated at Goethe Link Observatory near Mooresville, Indiana, mostly for asteroid observations (no longer there, alas). This photographic negative was on an 8"x10" glass plate that I still have after all this time (though it suffered a small crack at some point).

Unfortunately I did not record the date of observation, exposure time, etc. (no automatic metadata on analog media). But through the magic of software, I was able to reverse-engineer it. From a digital scan of the plate, the amazing online resource astrometry.net solved the coordinates (R.A. 23h 53m 54s, Dec. +02° 01' 34") and equally amazing JPL Horizons generated an ephemeris (list of celestial coordinates) that matched that position on January 24, 1974.

 


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