At last it's 1997, the year of the comet -- Comet Hale-Bopp, that is. This celebrated visitor from the outer solar system is now emerging from conjunction with the Sun into the morning sky. Tom Polakis of Tempe, Arizona, points out that observers in Canada and northern Europe stand the best chance of picking the comet out of a dark predawn sky this week. Observers at midnorthern latitudes will have better luck toward mid-month, though some U.S. observers have already succeeded in finding the comet near the horizon in twilight. Members of the National Capital Astronomers in Washington, D.C., remind us that Hale-Bopp reaches another milestone on January 8th, when its distance from the Sun falls below 1.66 astronomical units. That's the average orbital radius of Mars and is often considered the boundary of the inner solar system. Let's hope that by the time the comet returns to the outer solar system next June, it will have delighted us all by putting on an even better show than last year's surprise Great Comet, Hyakutake. Hale-Bopp is expected to be at its best in late March and April, when it will be well placed in the evening sky.
Here are Comet Hale-Bopp's equinox 2000.0 coordinates for this week at 0 hours Universal Time:
R.A. (2000.0) Decl. --------------------- January 4 18h 47.03m +5d 30.8' 6 18 50.15 +6 02.2 8 18 53.35 +6 35.0 10 18 56.64 +7 09.3
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