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Skartlien Images of Comet 1996 B2 Hyakutake

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Observer: Roar Skartlien
Location: Hagar Observatory, Norway
Date: March 27, 1996

Observations and photographs of Comet Hyakutake

Close encounter with a visitor from outer space.

Here are some pictures of Comet Hyakutake that I took during the first hours of the twenty seventh day in March 1996. It was close to the Earth, only at a distance of 15 million kilometer. The comet passed right above us, giving extremely good observing conditions at 60 degrees latitude, with the long tail crossing zenith in Ursae Major around midnight. We were then close to the orbital plane of the comet, such that the gas and dust tails were apparently pointing in the same direction.

The coma (hair) appeared blue/green possibly due to the mixing of reflected yellow sunlight from dust grains and blue C2 emission from the gas. C2 is two carbon atoms connected together forming a molecule. Changes in rotational and vibrational energy of C2 are the cause of light emission at distinct colours.

The visual magnitude of the coma was approximately 0.0 which is the same as Vega in Lyrae and Arcturus in Bootes. The nucleus appeared as a star like point, surrounded by a round coma. Spikes/lanes of dust/gas appeared right behind the coma in binoculars. The tail could be seen as long as 50 to 60 degrees during the best observing conditions. Patches of gas along the tail could also be seen in the binoculars.

All photographs and observations were made at the Hågår amateur observatory in Norway, approximately 100 km. north of Oslo. Here I spend many weekends during the dark season, gazing at the heavenly objects.

First Image

Comet Hyakutake in Ursae Major/ Ursae Minor on 27. March 1996. 15 min. exposure, 28mm, f/2.8, 400 ASA Ektachrome. Coma close to Polaris, and the tail was crossing zentih and extending down to the Coma Berenice star cluster (Hair of Berenice). If you look closely at the further parts of the tail, you'll see a string of stars that makes it tempting to extrapolate the tail longer than it actually is in this picture.

Second Image

10 min. exposure, 90mm, f/3.5, 400 ASA Ektachrome. Polaris is on the top of the picture. The blue streamer is probably the gas tail.

Third Image

5 min. exposure in primary focus of an f/6 10 inch Newtonian telescope. 400 ASA Ektachrome. Using the eye and a wide angle ocular at 108 x magnification, gave an impressing sight. A fan of evaporated matter extended towards the Sun. A jet-like feature appeared behind the nucleus in the direction of the tail. This jet is seen as the bulge pointing downward in the picture. The stars made streaks across the picture since the telescope was guided on the nucleus. The speed of the comet (relative to the Sun) was here around the square root of two times the velocity of the Earth (cf. Newtons laws).

Roar Skartlien

 
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