Comet Kohoutek
Comet Kohoutek, formally designated C/1973 E1, 1973 XII, and 1973f, was first sighted on 7 March 1973 by Czech
Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is a landlocked country in Central Europe. The country is bordered by Poland to the northeast, Slovakia to the east, Austria to the south, and Germany to the west and northwest....

 astronomer Luboš Kohoutek
Luboš Kohoutek
Luboš Kohoutek is a Czech astronomer.Kohoutek has been interested with astronomy since high school. He studied physics and astronomy at universities in Brno and Prague...

. It attained perihelion on 28 December that same year.

Comet Kohoutek is a long-period comet; its previous apparition was about 150,000 years ago, and its next apparition will be in about 75,000 years. At its apparition in 1973 it had a hyperbolic trajectory
Hyperbolic trajectory
In astrodynamics or celestial mechanics a hyperbolic trajectory is a Kepler orbit with the eccentricity greater than 1. Under standard assumptions a body traveling along this trajectory will coast to infinity, arriving there with hyperbolic excess velocity relative to the central body. Similarly to...

Orbital eccentricity
The orbital eccentricity of an astronomical body is the amount by which its orbit deviates from a perfect circle, where 0 is perfectly circular, and 1.0 is a parabola, and no longer a closed orbit...

 > 1) due to gravitational perturbations from giant planets. Due to its path, scientists theorized that Kohoutek was an Oort-cloud
Oort cloud
The Oort cloud , or the Öpik–Oort cloud , is a hypothesized spherical cloud of comets which may lie roughly 50,000 AU, or nearly a light-year, from the Sun. This places the cloud at nearly a quarter of the distance to Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun...

 object. As such, it was believed likely that this was the comet's first visit to the inner Solar System, which would result in a spectacular display of outgassing. Infrared and visual telescopic study have led many scientists to conclude, in retrospect, that Kohoutek is actually a Kuiper-belt object
Kuiper belt
The Kuiper belt , sometimes called the Edgeworth–Kuiper belt, is a region of the Solar System beyond the planets extending from the orbit of Neptune to approximately 50 AU from the Sun. It is similar to the asteroid belt, although it is far larger—20 times as wide and 20 to 200 times as massive...

, which would account for its apparent rocky makeup and lack of outgassing.

Before its close approach, Kohoutek was hyped by the media as the "comet of the century". However, Kohoutek's display was considered a let-down. Although it failed to brighten to levels expected, it was still a naked-eye object. Its greatest visual magnitude was -3, when it was at perihelion, 0.14 AU
Astronomical unit
An astronomical unit is a unit of length equal to about or approximately the mean Earth–Sun distance....

 from the Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

. Its orbital inclination
Inclination in general is the angle between a reference plane and another plane or axis of direction.-Orbits:The inclination is one of the six orbital parameters describing the shape and orientation of a celestial orbit...

 is 14.3°. Its best viewing was in the night sky after perihelion, when it had dimmed to fourth magnitude
Apparent magnitude
The apparent magnitude of a celestial body is a measure of its brightness as seen by an observer on Earth, adjusted to the value it would have in the absence of the atmosphere...

. The comet also sported a tail up to 25° long, along with an anti-tail.

C/1973 E1 should not be confused with the periodic comet 75D/Kohoutek, which can also be called "Comet Kohoutek" (as could the comets C/1969 O1 and C/1973 D1, also discovered by Luboš Kohoutek as sole discoverer).

This comet was observed by the crew of Skylab 4
Skylab 4
Skylab 4 was the fourth Skylab mission and placed the third and final crew on board the space station. The mission started November 16, 1973 with the launch of three astronauts on a Saturn IB rocket, and lasted 84 days, 1 hour and 16 minutes...

 and Soyuz 13
Soyuz 13
Soyuz 13 was a 1973 Soviet manned space flight, the second test flight of the redesigned Soyuz 7K-T spacecraft that first flew as Soyuz 12. The spacecraft was specially modified to carry the Orion 2 Space Observatory...

, thus becoming the first comet to be observed by a manned spacecraft.

Impact on popular culture

Because Comet Kohoutek fell far short of expectations, its name became synonymous with spectacular duds. However, it was fairly bright as comets go and put on a respectable show in the evenings shortly after perihelion.

In 1973, David Berg
David Berg
David Brandt Berg , frequently known by the pseudonym Moses David, was the founder and leader of the New Religious Movement formerly called Children of God, now called "The Family International".-Early years :Berg was born to Hjalmer Emmanuel Berg and Rev...

, founder of the Children of God, predicted that Comet Kohoutek foretold a colossal doomsday event
Doomsday event
A doomsday event is a specific, plausibly verifiable or hypothetical occurrence which has an exceptionally destructive effect on the human race...

 in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 in January 1974. Children of God members distributed Berg's messages, which warned of impending doom, across the country. The majority of U.S.-based members then fled in anticipation to existing group communes
Commune (intentional community)
A commune is an intentional community of people living together, sharing common interests, property, possessions, resources, and, in some communes, work and income. In addition to the communal economy, consensus decision-making, non-hierarchical structures and ecological living have become...

 (or formed new ones) around the world.

Comet Kohoutek inspired numerous musicians and other artists:
  • In the comic strip Peanuts
    Peanuts is a syndicated daily and Sunday American comic strip written and illustrated by Charles M. Schulz, which ran from October 2, 1950, to February 13, 2000, continuing in reruns afterward...

    , Snoopy and Woodstock hide under a blanket from a "strange light" in the sky in a story arc spanning 29 December 1973 through 3 January 1974. Linus eventually identifies the light as Kohoutek.
  • The jazz
    Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions. From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th...

     composer Sun Ra
    Sun Ra
    Sun Ra was a prolific jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher known for his "cosmic philosophy," musical compositions and performances. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama...

     performed the Concert for the Comet Kohoutek in December 1973.
  • The first single of German avant-garde music group Kraftwerk
    Kraftwerk is an influential electronic music band from Düsseldorf, Germany. The group was formed by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider in 1970, and was fronted by them until Schneider's departure in 2008...

    , released in December 1973, was called "Kohoutek-Kometenmelodie". On the album Autobahn
    Autobahn (album)
    Autobahn is the fourth studio album by German electronic band Kraftwerk, released in November 1974. The 22-minute title track "Autobahn" was edited to about 3 minutes for single release and reached number 25 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, and performed even higher around Europe, including...

    , which appeared a few months later, the track title was shortened to "Kometenmelodie" (comet melody).
  • The first album of Yahowha 13 from 1973 is called Kohoutek.
  • Argent's
    Argent (band)
    Argent are an English rock band founded in 1969 by keyboardist Rod Argent, formerly of The Zombies.-Career:The first three demos from Argent, recorded in the autumn of 1968 featured Mac MacLeod on bass guitar though he was not meant to become a member of the group.Original members of the band were...

     1974 album Nexus begins with three linked tracks inspired by Kohoutek: "The Coming of Kohoutek"; "Once Around the Sun"; and "Infinite Wanderer".
  • The rock band Journey
    Journey (band)
    Journey is an American rock band formed in 1973 in San Francisco by former members of Santana. The band has gone through several phases; its strongest commercial success occurred between the 1978 and 1987, after which it temporarily disbanded...

     wrote and recorded the instrumental "Kohoutek", which appeared on their self-titled debut album Journey in 1975.
  • Bill Carroll
    Bill Carroll (musician)
    Bill Carroll is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, bassist and guitarist. He has been a professional musician since the mid-1980s, and has been a member of the groups No Such Thing, Doubting Thomas, and The Real Underground...

     released an album in 1994 titled Kohoutek.
  • The English techno group 808 State
    808 State
    808 State are a British electronic music outfit, formed in 1987 in Manchester, taking their name from the Roland TR-808 drum machine and their common state of mind...

     wrote and recorded the instrumental "Kohoutek", which appeared on their 1996 album
    1996 in music
    This is a list of notable events in music that took place in the year 1996.-January:* January – At the trial of two American teenagers, Nicholaus McDonald and Brian Bassett, for the murder of Bassett's parents and young brother, defense lawyers attempt to lay the blame for the murders on the fact...

     Don Solaris.
  • The annual Kohoutek Music and Arts festival at Pitzer College
    Pitzer College
    Pitzer College is a private residential liberal arts college located in Claremont, California, a college town approximately east of downtown Los Angeles. Pitzer College is one of the Claremont Colleges....

     is a free event named after and in honor of the comet held since 1973 in mid April.
  • In The Simpsons
    The Simpsons
    The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical parody of a middle class American lifestyle epitomized by its family of the same name, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie...

    episode 2F11, "Bart's Comet
    Bart's Comet
    "Bart's Comet" is the 14th episode of The Simpsons sixth season. The episode originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on February 5, 1995. In the episode, Bart Simpson accidentally discovers a comet, which is heading towards Springfield...

    ", Principal Skinner
    Seymour Skinner
    Principal W. Seymour Skinner is a fictional character in the American animated sitcom The Simpsons. He is voiced by Harry Shearer. Born in Capitol City, he is the principal of Springfield Elementary School...

     says he missed the chance to name a comet after himself once, but that he "got back" at Principal Kohoutek... "him and that little boy of his!"
  • "In Celebration of the Comet - The Coming of Kahoutek" is the title of a popular and widely circulated bootleg
    Bootleg recording
    A bootleg recording is an audio or video recording of a performance that was not officially released by the artist or under other legal authority. The process of making and distributing such recordings is known as bootlegging...

     album from the band Pink Floyd
    Pink Floyd
    Pink Floyd were an English rock band that achieved worldwide success with their progressive and psychedelic rock music. Their work is marked by the use of philosophical lyrics, sonic experimentation, innovative album art, and elaborate live shows. Pink Floyd are one of the most commercially...

    . Recorded on February 17, 1972, the concert featured a musical piece referred to by the band as "Eclipse Suite," (later re-dubbed "The Dark Side of the Moon
    The Dark Side of the Moon
    The Dark Side of the Moon is the eighth studio album by English progressive rock band Pink Floyd, released in March 1973. It built on ideas explored in the band's earlier recordings and live shows, but lacks the extended instrumental excursions that characterised their work following the departure...

    " when the band eventually recorded it as an album in the studio later that year). The bootleg originally was pressed as an LP, but now can be found in digital formats.
  • Llee Heflin, a San Francisco writer and follower of Aleister Crowley
    Aleister Crowley
    Aleister Crowley , born Edward Alexander Crowley, and also known as both Frater Perdurabo and The Great Beast, was an influential English occultist, astrologer, mystic and ceremonial magician, responsible for founding the religious philosophy of Thelema. He was also successful in various other...

    , published what he claimed was a message from the comet in 1974 under the title Words from Kohoutek: The Message of the Serpent and the Dove.
  • The Mexican poet Jaime Sabines
    Jaime Sabines
    Jaime Sabines Gutiérrez was a Mexican contemporary poet. Known as “the sniper of Literature” as he formed part of a group that transformed literature into reality, he wrote ten volumes of poetry, and his work has been translated into more than twelve languages...

     used the Comet Kohoutek in his poem "Veremos" as a way of making a reference to the immensity of time and space.
  • Weather Report's 1974 Mysterious Traveller
    Mysterious Traveller
    Mysterious Traveller is the fourth release of Weather Report. This album marked the end of bassist Miroslav Vitous's tenure with the band. Vitous was replaced by Alphonso Johnson. Another addition to the line-up is drummer Ishmael Wilburn...

     LP with cover painting of a comet over Madagascar was named after Kohoutek
  • Burl Ives
    Burl Ives
    Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives was an American actor, writer and folk music singer. As an actor, Ives's work included comedies, dramas, and voice work in theater, television, and motion pictures. Music critic John Rockwell said, "Ives's voice .....

     recorded a single called "The Tail of the Comet Kohoutek / A Very Fine Lady" (1974, 7 in., 45 rpm, MCA 40175)
  • Athens, Georgia rock band R.E.M. released the track "Kohoutek", in which the comet was a metaphor for a romantic relationship, on their album "Fables of the Reconstruction" in 1985. R.E.M. had previously announced their intentions to never play the song live again in 1997, but a live recording of the track (along with a large portion of their early years catalog) was recorded in summer 2007 and released later on the album "Live at the Olympia" in 2009. 1985 IRS IRSC-5592/ 1985 CD MCA 5592
  • A building at Epic Systems Corporation
    Epic Systems Corporation
    Epic Systems Corporation is a privately held health care software company founded in 1979 by Judy Faulkner. Originally headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, Epic began moving staff to a new $300 million campus in Verona, Wisconsin in late 2005. Nearly all of Epic's staff are based in the greater...

     in Verona, Wisconsin
    Verona, Wisconsin
    Verona is a city in Dane County, Wisconsin, in the United States and is a suburb of Madison. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 7,052. With an estimated 2009 population of 11,486, Verona is among the fastest growing municipalities in the state. The city is located ten miles southwest of...

     is named after the comet and its discoverer.

See also

  • Great Comet
    Great comet
    A Great Comet is a comet that becomes exceptionally bright. There is no official definition; often the term will be attached to comets that become bright enough to be noticed by casual observers who are not actively looking for them, and become well known outside the astronomical community. Great...

    , a comet bright enough to be noticed by casual observers
  • 75D/Kohoutek (a.k.a. 1975 III, 1975c, 1981 IX, 1980j, 1987 XXVII, 1986k)
  • 76P/West-Kohoutek-Ikemura (a.k.a. 1975 IV, 1975b, 1981 VIII, 1980r, 1987 XV, 1987x, 1993 XXI, 1993o)

External links

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