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Sky & Telescope News Bulletin - March 1, 1996


Comet Hyakutake On Track

By all indications Comet Hyakutake (1996 B2) continues its impressive apparition. Observers report the comet has reached magnitude 6.0, even though it's still at the orbit of Mars. Comet Hyakutake comes 5 million kilometers closer to Earth each day, and on the night of March 25th it will race by us just 15 million km away. Richard Didick here in Massachusetts reports that the comet has a moderately condensed coma roughly 20 arcminutes across. Other observers have seen a tail of up to 2 degrees long. S&T columnist John Bortle says the coma has a striking parabolic shape. He feels the comet is guaranteed to reach 0 magnitude (total) when it goes past Earth in a few weeks, and a thin, low-contrast tail 30 or 40 long is not far-fetched. Brian Marsden of the IAU's Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams suggests that at this rate the comet will be the intrinsically brightest comet to pass so close to the Earth in more than four centuries. Moreover, says Marsden, orbital calculations indicate that the comet is not "new" and probably came this way before some 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. As such it has demonstrated a certain degree of "staying power" that fortifies predictions for a tremendous showing.

This week Comet Hyakutake is a predawn object for early risers. Moonlight will suppress the coma, but finding the comet through even modest binoculars should not be a problem. Here are positions for 0 hours Universal Time:

           R.A. (2000) Dec.
March 3   14h 52m  -22.2 dg
      5   14  53   -21.5
      7   14  54   -20.7

comethome.gif Comet 1996 B2 Hyakutake Home Page