By most accounts, Comet Hale-Bopp (C/1995 O1) has reached magnitude 0.0, which means it is outshining Comet Hyakutake at its peak last year. And it's still three weeks until Hale-Bopp's perihelion on April 1st. Meanwhile, the comet is beginning its gradual slide in the east before dawn -- and beginning to poke above the northwest at sunset, especially for viewers at far northern latitudes. In fact, right now the comet never sets for those of you in Alaska or Scandinavia. Hale-Bopp's gas tail can be glimpsed for some 20 deg in dark skies, and its dust tail is roughly half that long. To see Comet Hale-Bopp in all its glory you'll need to be up at least 1 1/2 hours before sunrise, though its starlike inner coma can still be seen in twilight. You'll find it not far above the northeast horizon, to the lower-left of the bright star Deneb in the constellation Cygnus.
Hale-Bopp is now becoming visible in the evening sky as well! Look low above the northwestern horizon as twilight fades out. The comet will rise higher in the dusk during the next two weeks, and it will shine at its best there in late March and early April.
The farther north you are the better; skywatchers at the latitudes of the northern United States have a better view than those in the southern U.S. Observers in the Southern Hemisphere miss out entirely (until late April or May).
Light pollution in your sky will diminish what you can see of the comet, especially the tail. But binoculars will give a grand view under any conditions. Don't miss this rare sight!
On March 9th Asian time, a total eclipse of the Sun crosses parts of Mongolia and Siberia. The Sun is partially eclipsed throughout eastern Asia and in Alaska (on March 8th Alaskan time).
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