In 1973 I was a geeky astronomy major at the University of Iowa in my sophomore year. Somehow I landed a job helping grad students collect their data at the observatory. Earlier that year the "comet of the century", C/1973 E1, better known as Comet Kohoutek had been discovered. Hyped by the media because of it's discovery at a large distance from the sun, it was supposed to attain a brightness nearly as bright as the full moon! From the University's observatory, I obtained my first published image when my 400mm shot ran in the student paper before it's close approach to the sun.
About the time it made it's appearance in the evening sky, something went wrong, and it never attained the predicted brightness. About the same time, cruising a record store I found the album pictured here - Weather Report's "Mysterious Traveller", likely the first of a few albums I bought for it's cover... While I wasn't an immediate fan of the jazz fusion genre, it's grown on me and is currently on my phone's playlist, and the spacey title song is a favorite. The cover art is drawn by Helmut Wimmer, who was an artist at Hayden planetarium for over 3 decades long before the digital age. It shows Comet Kohoutek as it was predicted to appear in the post-perihelion evening sky (after its close approach to the sun). We had several open-houses at the astronomy department with hundreds of people wanting to see the much-hyped comet, but all they saw was a little fuzz. As a result, Comet Kohoutek is synonymous with spectacular duds!
The reason I tell this story is that we've got incoming comets! First up is Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) which will peek above the western horizon in a couple weeks. It is already visible from the southern hemisphere, where, like Kohoutek, has been revised downwards in its predicted brightness. Besides being featured in Spaceweather,the periodical Sky and Telescope is keeping updates on the PanSTARRS appearance, and supplies the graphic shown here. It is currently predicted to be of about 3rd magnitude - bright for a comet, and well-visible to the naked eye from a dark location, but it won't be casting any shadows like the full moon!
Another interloper, Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) was discovered last Fall and sounded a lot like Kohoutek - early predictions placed it about as bright as the full moon (where have we heard that before?)! It still has a long way to go, won't near us until late fall, but is currently predicted to be about as bright as brilliant Venus near perihelion rounding the sun. It should still be relatively bright and highly visible for northern hemisphere viewers the end of the year.
So keep an eye out for these known visitors to the inner solar system, and of course, there is always a chance of a bright one appearing suddenly without much warning. I'm hoping to get some pics, so keep an eye on this space as well!