Comet Kohoutek, formally designated C/1973 E1, 1973 XII, and
1973f, was first sighted on March 7, 1973 by Czech astronomer Luboš
Kohoutek. It attained perihelion on December 26 that same year.
After its discovery in March, it was quickly proclaimed the Comet of
the Century and was expected to put on quite a show. It failed to impress
and the Comet's name quickly became the punchline to many a joke.
Kohoutek is a long period comet, with an orbital period of
approximately 75,000 years. Scientists theorized that Kohoutek was an Oort
Cloud Object and, 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. The scientists had a lot to learn about
comets, however, and Kohoutek's display was considered a let-down, leading
some to nickname it "Comet Watergate". Infrared and visual
telescopic study have led many scientists to conclude, in retrospect, that
Kohoutek is actually a Kuiper belt object, which would account for its
apparent rocky makeup and lack of outgassing.
Because Comet Kohoutek fell far short of expectations its name became
synonymous with spectacular duds. Even Skylab
astronauts had trouble seeing the comet by early January.
courtesy of NASA
Comet Kohoutek in Pop Culture
- The jazz composer Sun Ra performed the Concert for the Comet
Kohoutek in December 1973.
- The first single of German avant-garde music group Kraftwerk,
released in December 1973, was called "Kohoutek-Kometenmelodie".
On the album Autobahn, which appeared a few months later, the track
title was shortened to "Kometenmelodie" (comet melody).
- Argent's 1974 album Nexus (album) begins with three linked tracks
inspired by Kohoutek: "The Coming of Kohoutek"; "Once
Around the Sun"; and "Infinite Wanderer".
- The rock band Journey wrote and recorded the instrumental "Kohoutek",
which appeared on their self-titled debut album Journey in 1975.
- The rock band R.E.M. named a song "Kohoutek" on their 1985
album Fables of the Reconstruction.
- Bill Carroll released an album in 1994 titled Kohoutek.
- The English techno group 808 State wrote and recorded the
instrumental "Kohoutek", which appeared on their 1996 album Don
- On an episode of The
Simpsons, principal Skinner comments that he once missed the
chance to name a comet after himself, vowing revenge on
"Principal Kohoutek... him and that boy of his!"