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Kohoutek (comet)

Kohoutek (comet)


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Kohoutek is the name of a comet discovered in March 1973 and visible to the naked eye at the end of December of the same year.

Characterized by a very eccentric orbit, the comet probably came from the Oort cloud: from that area where billions of cometary nuclei appear relegated.

The star was discovered by astronomer Lubos Kohoutek of the Hamburg Observatory and reached the perihelion (minimum distance from the Sun) on December 28, 1973, passing just 21,000,000 km. of our star (about 1/3 of the Sun-Mercury distance).

Precisely because of this very next step it was expected that the comet's nucleus, estimated at about 20 km in diameter, would develop a huge tail and that as a result the Kohoutek would become the most spectacular comet of the century. But the expected phenomenon did not occur: the Kohoutek became visible to the naked eye, but it was no brighter than a fourth-fifth magnitude star.

The popular writer and popularizer Isaac Asimov the disappointment that accompanied this phenomenon, probably because the cometary nucleus was not very rich in volatile elements and, therefore, did not react as expected to the heat radiated by the Sun.

The astronomer Kohoutek, Asimov himself and other enthusiasts had organized a cruise in the liner "Queen Elizabeth ll", in the middle of Christmas of 1973, to observe the comet from more favorable latitudes, but the weather was bad and, when the clouds cleared , could hardly be seen with the naked eye.

Meanwhile, important analyzes of the structure and composition of the comet were carried out from the astronomical observatories of half the world. Also the astronauts aboard the Skylab orbital laboratory were able to photograph it in different wavelengths and discover an immense halo of hydrogen around it.


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