Is this year going to be like the late 1990’s where we have several wonderful comets? Sadly I don’t think so. Recent news articles have mentioned approaching comets and how visible they might be. That this could be the year of the comets. Thats to be expected for regular news stories but I cringe reading them. Its just too early to tell for sure. One thing I am certain of, one must get away from city lights to appreciate a comet, any comet.
You might not know theres always comets floating around the night sky. Most of the time you need a telescope to see them and even then they aren’t very impressive to the eye. They might appear as a small fuzz ball. So the chance a new comet will arrive visible for all to see makes a good news story. The first comet like that this year is C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS. Astronomers believe this ball of ice and rock is making its first visit to the sun. Right now it’s headed towards the sun and will circle it around the 10th of March.
First time comets are notorious underperformers, remember Kohoutek? PANSTARRS is already not following the earliest brightness predictions so its now very unlikely to be a spectacular sight. For those of us in mid northern latitudes the comets closest and brightest time will be in mid to late March. The comet will be low in the west, setting below the horizon before the sky is completely dark. There is a chance that it could develop a large dust tail like Comet McNaught did for southern observers. That would be exciting and very noticeable. We’ll soon find out.
Second major comet of 2013, Comet C/2012 S1 ISON is coming at the end of the year. This comet comes from the Oort cloud and has a real chance of being something exciting. While its still a long ways away its very interesting because it seems to be similar to the Great Comet of 1680. We’ve got many months to go to find out, it will round the sun at the end of November 2013 and if it survives we’ll see it in December 2013. Can’t wait!