OK, sleeping late is no longer a good excuse! Comet Hale-Bopp (C/1995 O1) continues to get brighter and higher in the predawn sky. Even those of you with serious light pollution will have no trouble picking this distant visitor out between the bright stars Deneb and Altair. Current reports put the comet's magnitude at about 1.5, and you'll see a tail ranging anywhere from 1 to 15 deg long, depending on your sky conditions. Through binoculars the comet has a dazzling nucleus and a satisfying U shape that portends a fine showing in the weeks ahead. Perihelion, its closest point to the Sun, does not occur until April 1st! Here are Hale-Bopp's equinox 2000.0 coordinates for this week at 0 hours Universal Time:
R.A. (2000.0) Decl. --------------------- February 9 20h 1.8m +19d 40' 11 20 7.8 +20 50 13 20 14.2 +22 3 15 20 20.9 +23 18
If you're worried about obstructions along your eastern horizon or can't use coordinates, try this trick. Sometime this week in early evening, track down the star Gamma Leonis, the brightest star in Leo's curved Sickle. Comet Hale-Bopp will be close to that spot in your sky 10 hours later.
Hale-Bopp should be visible to the naked eye under dark, clear conditions. Look for a fuzzy "star" with a short, broad, upward-pointing tail. Any light pollution in your sky may hide much or even all of the comet. But binoculars will reveal it even through light pollution and will give a fine view under almost any conditions. The comet will brighten in the dawn for the rest of this winter. It will be at its best in the dawn sky in March, and in the evening sky from late March through mid-April.
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