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Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos Images of Comet Hale-Bopp


Observers: M. Serra-Ricart, A. Oscoz, E. Mediavilla
Location: La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain
Date: February 4, 1997

Dated February 4th 1997 New images, taken by M. Serra-Ricart, A. Oscoz and E. Mediavilla, of the IAC Comet Hale-Bopp Team show the spectacular activity of this comet as it closes towards perihelion, its closest point to the Sun. At the moment that this image was taken, the comet was just 54 days from perihelion. The comet was then 287 million kilometers (1.920AU) from the Earth and 197 million kilometers (1.317AU) from the Sun. Latest observations show that the comet is now brighter than magnitude 2 and still heading for a maximum around one magnitude brighter than 1996's Comet Hyakutake (1996 B2). The image was taken at the Auxiliary Port of the 4.2-m William Herschel Telescope of el Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos (La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain). The image is approximately 50 arcseconds across and shows a region of the comet 70 000 kilometers in diameter. A broad-band R filter was used for the observation and an exposure time of just two seconds. A complex series of twisted and spiral jets can be seen in the processed image, with many jets splitting into two, three, or even more parts. At least nine individual jets are visible, some quite faint. The main jet extending towards the top left from the nucleus has been constantly active now for a year. At least five jets, split into three systems, split off it to the upper right, similar to the famous "spiral jets" seen in Autumn 1995. These structures mark the start of the plasma (gas) tail which is being seen by visual observers. The branches in the jet may well be due to the rotation of the nucleus puffing-off more gas each time the jet points towards the Sun. The comet will get 30% closer to the Sun over the next 7 weeks, receiving, as it does so, more than four times as much heat as it does now. This amazing jet activity can only get stronger.

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