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Tracking the bright comet Hyakutake.

First spied through high-powered binoculars in late January, Comet Hyakutake looked like a faint smudge (SN: 2/17/96, p. 103). Now, it is visible to the naked eye. Astronomers are increasingly confident that by late April, Hyakutake will be the brightest comet seen from Earth in 20 years. From March 23 through 29, the comet will be visible all night in the northern skies. It will come closest to Earth on the night of March 24, venturing within 15 million kilometers, or one-tenth the distance from our planet to the sun. On March 26, look for Hyakutake near Polaris, the North Star. (To use this map of the sky, hold it upside down, face north, and look upward.) Even though its overall brightness during this period may rival that of the brightest stars, the comet will be more difficult to spot because its proximity to Earth diffuses the light, says Daniel Green of the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams in Cambridge, Mass.

On April 3, skywatchers in the northeastern United States will have a special treat: A total eclipse of the moon will enhance the view of Hyakutake. The comet is likely to fade in early April as it moves away from Earth, but by mid-April, as it heads closer to the sun, Hyakutake should form a brilliant tail, the trademark of comets. During the third week of April, the comet may appear at its brightest, as dazzling as Jupiter, Green notes. Beauty is ephemeral, however, and by May 1, when Hyakutake passes closest to the sun, it will be lost in the star's glare. The comet will then veer south, becoming visible only in the Southern Hemisphere. By summer, observers will need a telescope to view Hyakutake. Then, calculates bureau director Brian G. Marsden, the comet won't be back for 10,000 to 20,000 years. The Hubble Space Telescope will attempt a snapshot of the comet on March 25 and plans to take both pictures and spectra on April 1.
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Title Annotation:comet to be visible in northern skies from March 23 through March 29, 1996
Author:Cowen, Ron
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Mar 23, 1996
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