Above: Comet McNaught displays its beautiful plumage to stargazers in 2007 (Image: ESO)
THERE'S NO SHORTAGE OF COMETS scooting about the solar system and most of them are happy to pass by in relative anonymity – their quiet passage through the inky black of night marked only by astronomers and automated robotic telescopes. But, every so often, a comet comes along that is destined for greatness – a comet that shines so bright that it can break through the glare of the Sun and impose its presence on the daytime skies.
We have only been visited by these so-called ‘great comets’ 32 times in the last 1,000 years. Some, like the famous Haley’s Comet, visit once in a lifetime (twice if you live longer than 76 years) while others are even more reclusive and might only stop by once in every hundred millennia. Yet there is a chance that we will be visited two great comets in 2013 (well, maybe one) and one of them could be the brightest in history (but it might not).