Here's a quick guide for the coming week. On Friday night, March 22nd, the comet is well in the sky up by 9 or 10 p.m. Look east toward the bright star Arcturus. Using your outstretched arm as a guide, the comet will be one fist width to the star's lower left. (As night progresses the comet will wheel higher in the sky until it's almost directly overhead.) Over the next few nights Comet Hyakutake will head north, and by Tuesday, March 26th, you'll find it just a few degrees from Polaris, the North Star, about halfway up in the sky as you face north. In the days thereafter it moves west, and by Friday, the 29th, it's about halfway between Polaris and dazzling Venus high in the west. The comet is getting brighter in an absolute sense as it heads closer to the Sun, but by the end of the week it will be farther from Earth, with moonlight washing out faint details in its coma and tail.
First, find a dark viewing site. To see the comet well -- or perhaps at all -- you'll need to get away from glary outdoor lights and give your eyes time to adapt to the dark. And unless the comet performs very well, you may also need to get out from under the milky glow of light pollution that fills the night sky over heavily populated areas. But the only way to tell will be to go out and look!
After twilight has completely faded out, find the Big Dipper standing on its handle partway up the northeastern sky. Look for the comet less than a fist-width at arm's length to the left or lower left of the Big Dipper's bottom star (the star at the end of the Dipper's handle).
The Dipper and comet rise higher into better visibility later in the evening. By midnight they're nearly overhead when you face northeast, with the comet appearing below the end segment of the Dipper's handle. The Moon sets around then too, darkening the sky.
The best optical instrument for viewing the comet will be a pair of binoculars, recommends Sky & Telescope magazine. The bigger the binoculars' front lenses the better. A telescope provides a narrow-field view that will show only part of the comet at once. If you try a telescope, be sure to use its *lowest* magnification.
The view will improve late in the evening as the Moon, nearly first quarter, gets low near setting. By midnight the Big Dipper is nearly overhead in the north, and the comet appears about two fist-widths directly below its center.
Tonight, if you go out soon after the end of twilight, look about one fist-width at arm's length (or maybe slightly more) to the left of Polaris in the north. (Find Polaris from the Big Dipper as described for yesterday.) The Moon sets around 2 a.m. tonight, leaving a darker sky. If you look at that time or later, the comet is about 1 1/2 fist-widths below Polaris.
This evening, find the point halfway between Capella and Polaris. Look for the comet a little below that point. It is fading now as it flies Sunward away from Earth.
Comet 1996 B2 Hyakutake Home Page