Comet McNaught (C/2006 P1) is plunging toward the Sun. It won’t hit, but at closest approach on Jan. 13th it will be only 0.17 AU away–much closer than Mercury (0.38 AU). When the hot comet emerges later this month it could be brighter than a 1st-magnitude star. Or not. No one knows what will happen.
Space.com has a live cam here to watch the drama unfold.
Comets of course have had significant importance to human cultures since time immemorial. We are familiar with their portending doom and gloom, but they also were known to be the harbingers of great kings. Some believed comets to be messengers of the gods; they originate in the outer reaches of the solar system and merely appear as visitors. Even today, comets can bring hysteria. Who can forget the hysteria that occurred during the appearance of Comet Hale Bopp, when fringe groups waited on mountains to be taken to heaven.
It will be interesting to track this comet and see what comes of it. It’s unexpected arrival comes just in time for the Uranus/Jupiter square! Perhaps there is a message here after all.