Great Comets usually only come around every decade or so. One per hemisphere, I’d guess. These are usually the only comets the average person sees. They see the ones you simply cannot avoid spotting, such as Halley, Hale-Bopp and recently (for the southern hemisphere) Lovejoy and McNaught.
What most people don’t know is at any given time there is at least one visible comet (through binoculars, cameras or telescopes). This past November/December there were four. Comet ISON, Encke, Lovejoy (a different Lovejoy) and one that slips my mind were all visible. Some to the naked eye in good sky conditions.
Comet PANSTARRS K-1 is what they call moderately bright. Probably not naked eye, but anyone with a long exposure camera, binoculars or even a small telescope can access this comet that recently sprouted itself a cool, swervy second tail. Most comets get at least two tails, some get 4-6. The two main tails are caused by obvious reasons.
One tail (and first tail) is left behind the trail the comet is traversing. The second one usually pops up when certain frozen gases hit their needed temperature to melt. This tail happens closer to the Sun and goes in a different direction than the original tail. While the first is left behind the comet’s trail, the second is left when ices melt and begin falling prey to the immense solar winds of our parent star.
These tails, when in the right places, create the meteor showers we see throughout the year. Most are from comets such as this one, but a couple are confirmed to be left behind by asteroids.
PANSTARRS will be passing a bright star in the Big Dipper/Ursa Major. Not sure which, but this makes for easy spotting. Finding the damn things is the hardest part, but when it nears a bright star it makes it worlds easier.