Could 2013 be the year of the comet? Maybe. I still remember the thrill of seeing Halley's comet back in 1986. It wasn't like seeing fireworks at Disney, but to see a fuzzy blobish light through my old telescope and know it was the famous Halley's comet sent shivers up my spine. It still does today.
St. Valentine's Day Almost Massacre
I recently found out that several significant astronomical events will take place in 2013. Let's start with Feb. 15. On this day a 150-foot-long meteor (or 149 feet, 11 inches long if you use Subway's calculations) will travel by Earth at a ridiculously close distance. This meteor will travel under some manmade satellites and according to NASA's calculations it will not hit Earth. I completely trust NASA's math analysis on this prediction. Not because they have the best mathematicians and landed humans on the moon, but because I'm too lazy to do the math myself. If you are still a bit worried, watch this NASA scientist put you at ease with this short video: http://youtu.be/1ycGo-b25TQ
Beware the Ides of March. Or rather beware the dumb names of comets. Usually comets are named after the people who discovered them like comet Halley, comet Swift-Tuttle, comet Hale-Bopp and my personal favorite, comet Hyakutake, which I am tempted to order every time I eat at Seven Moons.
The comet of this month is called Comet PANSTARRS. Ready? This comet is named after the Panoramic Survey Telescope And Rapid Response System project based on Hawaii. Can't we call this the Hawaiian comet? At least that sounds like a lovely drink. Nonalcoholic of course.
So between March 12 and March 18 look for the Hawaiian comet right after sunset towards the west.
Early April – Comet Lemmon
Named after the Lemmon Observatory in Arizona and not after Del's Lemonade, Comet Lemmon will be visible in the western skies around April Fool's Day. This comet has a period of 11,000 years which means that only vampires that are alive 11,000 years from now can see the comet again. The greenish tinge of this comet is caused by – you guessed it – the poisonous gas cyanogen. This factoid basically means nothing unless you are excited, like me, to share this knowledge with forlorn-looking people at dinner parties.
The Comet of the Century (maybe)
Here we have Comet ISON named after the International Scientific Optical Network based in Russia. I'm actually OK with this name because if this comet was named after its two discoverers it would be called comet Nevski-Novichonok which doesn't roll off my tongue as easily as comet Shoemaker-Levy, which smashed into Jupiter back in 1994.
Currently, comet ISON is near Jupiter and may be visible to us in late October as it approaches the Sun. On Nov. 28, Comet ISON will be inside the corona of the Sun and will be enduring much stress due to the corona's 2 million degree temperature (which is almost as hot as Florida in July). If comet ISON can survive this Floridian heat, it may be visible during the day and be spectacular at night. This is the comet that just might be the comet of our lifetime. But comets are unpredictable, so you never know if they will live up to their own hype. Sort of like the Forty Niners in the Superbowl.
So there you have it. Three comets and an asteroid.
Even though that sounds like a bad ABC comedy, 2013 looks to be a spectacular year for looking up to the skies.