Comets are a lot like the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. They get you really excited early on, and just when your hopes are highest, they become a continual disappointment. Then you go through the same thing the next time around. More often than not, comets with great expectations fizzle or burn up. Here are my top five comet fizzles from recorded history.
But comets, unlike the Leafs, can sometimes succeed. They can live up to expectations and become a beautiful night sky jewel. Hale-Bopp comes to mind from 1997, when it exceeded the expectations and became the comet of a century.
A few days ago, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite captured a brand new comet, dubbed C/2015 D1. This isn’t much cause for concern, after all, SOHO has discovered 2,875 comets, more than any other single survey in history. What is unique about this particular comet is that it survived its trip around the Sun! Known as a ‘sungrazer,’ comets that approach the sun so closely often burn up under the intense heat and pressure of the Sun. Comet ISON famously went through a spectacular burn up in 2013.
This comet is also unique in that it is a sungrazer comet that it not part of what is called the Kreutz family, a large group of small comets that all broke off of one giant comet centuries ago.
If it continues to survive it could brighten quickly and become visible in the evening sky, adding to the already great hangout of much bigger rocks Mars and Venus.
Because the comet’s orbit hasn’t been measured by anything more than SOHO, its not entirely accurate, but at least gives you somewhere to look right now. Being very dim right now, around magnitude 6, it may never become bright enough to outshine twilight while it’s close enough to see.
But just like with your favourite perennial failure of a sports team, its worth keeping an eye on and getting your hopes up.