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The term "Great Comet"

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  • cnj999
    Several posters have asked why they have not heard the appellation Great Comet applied to C/2006 P1, or perhaps at what point in time it would become
    Message 1 of 5 , Jan 13, 2007
      Several posters have asked why they have not heard the
      appellation "Great Comet" applied to C/2006 P1, or perhaps at what
      point in time it would become appropriate to do so. Thus, perhaps
      this is a good opportunity to caralify the term.

      Historically, the name "Great Comet" has been applied most often to
      objects of great brilliance and spectacular appearance that appearred
      suddenly out of the twilight and were "discovered" simultaneously
      throughout the world. Less often, the name has been unsed in
      conjunction with particularly bright and impressive objects to set
      them appart from all others seen around a certain time, as in the
      Great Comet of 1811 (Comet Flaugergeus) or The Great September Comet
      of 1882 (Comet Cruls). Typically, however, when a comet has been
      discovered well before it became spectacular, even if eventually
      visible in daylight, it remains known simply by the discoverer's
      name, as with Comet Hind (1847) or Comet Donati (1858).
      Incidentally, while the name of a month is sometimes included in a
      comet's official name, as with the Great March Comet (1843) or the
      Great September Comet (1882), a discoverer's name is never used in
      conjunction with "Great Comet", as in McNaught's Great Comet or Great
      Comet McNaught.

      The usage of the term "Great Comet" peaked during the 19th century
      and has rarely been applied over the past hundred years. The only
      notable exception being the Great January Comet of 1910 (sometimes
      called the Daylight Comet of 1910). The brilliant comets of 1947 and
      1948, discovered simultaneously by thousands, are referred to as The
      Southern Comet and The Eclipse Comet, respectively. An interesting
      footnote, however, is that Brian Marsden of the IAU Central Telegram
      Bureau, the body officially charged with naming comets, once referred
      unofficial to Comet Ikeya-Seki as "The Great Comet of 1965" in the
      pages of Sky & Telescope magazine.

      Nevertheless, the brilliant comets Skjellerup-Maristany, Arend-
      Roland, Ikeya-Seki, Bennett, West, Hale-Bopp, and Hyakutake (which
      certainly deserves the title of Great Comet if any ever did) are
      officially known simply by their discoverer's names. Nevertheless, to
      comet observers and writers of astronomical literature, these are all
      considered member of a group of spectacular objects informally
      called "Great Comets".

      Thus, we honestly have two usages of the term "Great Comet": one for
      official use in orbital catalogs, lists and such and another,
      informal but classical, to indentify or group a number of spectacular
      objects clearly set appart from their more mundane brethern. So, you
      may choose to call C/2006 P1 what you may but do choose understanding
      the terminology.

      As for me....well, to me C/2006 P1 will always be remembered as The
      Great Daylight Comet of 2007.

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