Contributing Editor David Levy reports that Comet Hale-Bopp (C/1995 O1) is now magnitude 1.7, about midway between the range of magnitudes being reported by various observers worldwide. At this rate the comet should brighten to magnitude -0.5 or better by the end of March. On February 12th, viewing through a 16-inch telescope, Levy also spotted a secondary condensation -- probably a burst of dust -- located 20" from the primary nucleus in position angle 190 deg. Through binoculars the comet has a dazzling nucleus, a distinct U-shaped dust tail, and a longer ion tail several degrees long. Here are Hale- Bopp's equinox 2000.0 coordinates for this week at 0 hours Universal Time:
R.A. (2000.0) Decl. --------------------- February 15 20h 20.9m +23d 18' 17 20 28.0 +24 37 19 20 35.6 +25 58 21 20 43.6 +27 22
Hale-Bopp should be visible to the naked eye under dark-sky 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 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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