Science & Space

Within days after a new comet is first discovered, astronomers can tell you exactly what its path through the solar system will look like. They can calculate when it will make its closest approach to the Sun, how near it will be to Earth at any given moment and even when — or whether — it’s likely to make a return visit.

What they can’t say for sure is how brilliant a show it will put on for us. Back in the 1970’s, Comet Kohoutek was billed as the “Comet of the Century,” but it turned out to be so disappointing that it ended up as a laugh line for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. Even a well-known comet like Halley’s, whose 1986 appearance was ballyhooed years in advance, can turn out to be a dud.

With that caveat noted, however, there’s a reasonable chance that Earth…

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