Even bright moonlight can't dampen the growing enthusiasm for Comet Hale-Bopp (C/1995 O1), which observers say has reached a total magnitude of 1.0. S&T Contributing Editor John Bortle alerts you all to a giant curved fountain that can be easily seen in binoculars on the southeast side of the dazzling nucleus, inside the 2-degree-long dust tail. Telescopically, Bortle reports, the inner coma's structure is almost too complex to describe. There's also a longer ion tail on the north side.
Beginning this week we will skip giving you precise coordinates, because the comet is rather obvious in the predawn sky even if viewed from urban skies. To see it you'll need to be up roughly 1.5 hours before sunrise. You'll find the comet about 20 degrees above the east- northeast horizon; it's clipping the lower wing of the constellation Cygnus and is to the lower-right of the bright star Deneb.
Hale-Bopp should be visible to the naked eye even in rather mediocre sky conditions. Look for a fuzzy "star" with a short, broad tail. Any light pollution in your sky will diminish what you can see of the comet. But binoculars will give a fine view under any conditions.
Hale-Bopp will brighten in the dawn for the next month. It will be at its best in the dawn sky during March, and in the evening sky from late March through mid-April.
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