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How Comet Hyakutake B2 Was Discovered


Press Statement by Mr. Yuji Hyakutake
Discoverer of Comet Hyakutake

March 29, 1996

I am a 45-year old amateur astronomer from Kagoshima, Japan. My name, Hyakutake, means "100 samurai, or chivalry," in Japanese. It is not a very common name in Japan.

I graduated from the Art Department at Kyushu Industry University, where I majored in photography.

I live in the village of Hayato, in the southernmost prefecture located 600 miles southwest of Tokyo on the island of Kyushu. I lived in Fukuoka for many years, but moved to Kagoshima because the skies are much clearer there.

I have been married for 15 years, and have two sons, ages 10 and 13. I am the only one in my family whose hobby is searching for comets. My younger son likes the television show, "The X-Files."

I've been interested in comets since I was 15 years old, after I heard of the Japanese Comet Ikeya-Seki which appeared in 1965. My interest in astronomy has increased steadily since then. I wanted to discover a comet that had a very far orbit.

Although I started searching for comets about seven years ago when I lived in Fukuoka, I have concentrated my efforts more intensely since I moved to Kagoshima two years ago.

Since last July, I have been avidly searching the night sky for comets from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., about four nights a month. I want to continue searching for comets while my eyesight is reasonably good.

Many people have asked me how I discovered Comet Hyakutake. I live in the countryside and travel to a rural mountain top area about 10 miles from my home to get a better view of the night sky. (Before I was married, I enjoyed mountain climbing.)

Actually, I discovered two comets. I spotted the first one at 5:40 a.m. on December 26. I wasn't sure it was a comet, but I reported the sighting anyway. This first comet is still there, but it's not very bright.

A month later, I went back to the area to take photos of the first comet. I looked l up at the sky where it should have been at that point in its path. However, that particular spot was filled with clouds. I tried to find an area in the sky that was unobscured. The clouds led me back to the same spot in the sky where I had originally found the first comet, but it didn't make sense that it would be there. That is when I discovered the second Comet Hyakutake, the one the media now refers to as "The Comet of the Century."

I've been asked about 75 times how I felt when I discovered this comet. Actually, I was feeling a bit confused. My reaction was somewhat complicated, since I had originally intended to go to the viewing spot to take a picture of my first comet. I found the second comet in the same area as the first one, near the constellations of Libra and Hydra.

I discovered Comet Hyakutake at 4:50 in the morning, and usually a person can report a comet after 8 a.m., but I decided to take some photos of the comet, using my camera with telephoto lenses, and got them developed. It wasn't until 11 a.m. that I called the National Astronomy Observatory in Tokyo to report my new comet.

I followed the formal procedure of gathering data and documenting my new comet discovery with photos. Then two other amateur astronomers in Japan recognized the comet.

It's interesting that my discovery wasn't reported very widely by the Japanese media until recently. The first media reports were from London. Then the American press became very interested. Now the Japanese media is covering the comet story. My wife can't make phone calls because the phone is always ringing.

I'm happy that this Comet Hyakutake was the second one I discovered, because it wasn't mere coincidence. This proved to me that my method of searching for comets is working, and I will continue to look for them.

I use high-powered, field binoculars with 6-inch lenses, mounted on a stand. This is the only equipment I own.

Comet Hyakutake has the longest tail that I have ever observed, although the new Hubble images show that this comet is breaking into fragments.

I am a bit perplexed by all the attention paid to me, when it is the comet that deserves the credit.

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