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Abrams Planetarium SKYWATCHER'S DIARY - March 1996


These are extracts from the March 1996 issue of the Skywatcher's Diary concerning Comet Hyakutake. It includes excellent viewing tips for the comet. Permission has been obtained from Jenny Pon ( to place this version on this home page.

Ron Baalke


Monday, March 11
A comet is coming! The discovery of Comet Hyakutake C/1996 B2 was reported Jan. 31. Preliminary calculations indicate that Comet Hyakutake may become bright as it passes within 10 million miles of Earth two weeks from now. Then the comet is expected to fade some, then rebrighten in late April before disappearing into the solar glare on approach to perihelion 21 million miles from the Sun on May 1. Keep in mind that predictions of comet brightnesses are very uncertain!

The predictions about Comet Hyakutake appearing in the rest of this month's Skywatcher's Diary are based on information available as of February 9, 1996. We will know more by this date in March.

Tuesday, March 12
Comet Hyakutake may now be visible in binoculars before dawn. Face due south 2-1/2 to 3 hours before sunrise, and look for a pair of 3rd- magnitude stars Alpha and Beta in Libra, midway between the first- magnitude stars Spica in SSW and Antares in SSE. Beta is 9 degrees upper left of Alpha. On Wednesday the comet may be of magnitude 4 or 5 and appear as a faint fuzzball just one degree to the left of Alpha Librae, also known as Zubenelgenubi, the Scorpion's southern claw. For the next few mornings, the comet will be brightening and shifting northward (upward) by 1 to 2 degrees per day.

Saturday, March 16
Face south about three hours before sunrise, and have another try at Comet Hyakutake, which is brightening with its rapid approach to Earth. Three hours before sunrise, face south and locate the two 3rd- magnitude stars Alpha and Beta in Libra, as described above under March 12. On Sunday morning, the comet is expected to glow between 3rd and 4th magnitude, within 7 degrees above Alpha and 6 degrees right of Beta. Use binoculars.

Thursday, March 21
Comet Hyakutake by now may have brightened to 2nd magnitude, and it's now visible from late evening through rest of night. Four hours after sunset, locate the Big Dipper high in NE, then its curved handle will lead you to the bright star Arcturus in the east: "Follow the arc to Arcturus." Using binoculars, look for a fuzzy ball of light 10 or 11 degrees below Arcturus. That's the comet, now just 14 million miles from Earth and closing! On March 25, Comet Hyakutake will pass within 10 million miles of our home planet.

Friday, March 22
As it sweeps rapidly by Earth, Comet Hyakutake is now changing its position against background stars by over 10 degrees form one night to the next. Three or four hours after sunset, locate Arcturus in east (see March 21), and the 2nd-magnitude star Izar 10 degrees to its left. Tonight the Comet may be a magnitude 1.5 fuzzball 8 degrees lower left of Arcturus and 4 or 5 degrees lower right of Izar. Binoculars may give the best view. Arcturus, Izar, and four additional stars to the left of Arcturus complete a kite-shaped figure lying on its side, comprising the constellation Bootes, the Herdsman.

Sunday, March 24
Early this week, Comet Hyakutake may reach its greatest brightness, at perhaps first magnitude, but because much of its light is spread out over a large area, the "coma", or head of the comet, it will not appear as bright as a star of the same magnitude. Tonight and tomorrow, the comet passes within 10 million miles of Earth. In the late evening, look about 8 degrees lower left of the end of the handle of the Big Dipper.

Sunday, March 31
At nightfall during March 31-April 5, Comet Hyakutake will be within 2 to 6 degrees of the 2nd-magnitude star Alpha in Perseus. (Locate this star in NW, to upper left of the "W" of Cassiopeia and upper right of Venus.) Starting April 5, the Moon won't interfere.

Wednesday, April 3
At Abrams Planetarium, if skies are clear this evening, we are holding a public viewing session for tonight's total lunar eclipse. The Moon will rise in total eclipse right around sunset, but will probably remain invisible in twilight until it begins to emerge from Earth's shadow at 7:53 p.m. EST.

Our session will begin at 7:30 p.m., at the *east* end of the top level of the parking ramp behind Abrams Planetarium (that's the end farther from the Planetarium and closer to the Moon). While we're waiting for the Moon to appear, we'll watch the early spring stars come out, enjoy telescopic views of Venus in its "half moon" phase, binocular views of Venus near the Pleiades star cluster, and of Comet Hyakutake below the Alpha Persei cluster. The session will close with the Moon's complete emergence from Earth's shadow at 8:59 p.m. EST.

The *Skywatcher's Diary* for March 1-April 3, 1996 has been prepared by Robert C. Victor. Credit to Abrams Planetarium, Department of Physics and Astronomy at Michigan State University would be appreciated. Our illustrated *Sky Calendar* accompanies the printed version of Skywatcher's Diary as it is sent monthly to Michigan newspapers, but does not accompany this Internet version. If you would like a sample copy, send your request with a self- addressed, stamped envelope to:

Sky Calendar
Abrams Planetarium
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824

A sample *Sky Calendar* of a past month is available over the Internet. It can be accessed via a World-Wide Web browser such at Netscape or Mosiac, directly at URL:

The Department of Physics and Astronomy at Michigan State University continues to make *Skywatcher's Diary* available over the Internet. It can be accessed via a World-Wide Web browser such as Netscape or Mosiac, directly at URL:>

The Skywatcher's Diary is also available via anonymous ftp at: in the directory /pub/swd/

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