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Sky & Telescope News Bulletin - March 15, 1996



This should be an excellent week to view Comet Hyakutake (1996 B2). Although it's been confined to the post-midnight hours until now, the comet is making an accelerating beeline for northern skies. By March 20th observers in the Northern Hemisphere will find it high in the northeast soon after midnight, and by the 23rd it will be well up by 9 or 10 p.m. And what a nice comet this is! As of March 15th it had brightened to between magnitude 3.1 and 3.5, with a strong central condensation and a faint tail at least a couple degrees long. Predictions still suggest that the comet should reach magnitude 0, more or less, when it passes closest to Earth on the night of March 24-25. So find yourself a nice dark site; the comet will be hard to miss in the constellation Libra. Here are positions for 0 hours Universal Time:

           R.A. (2000) Dec.
March 17  14h 55m  -10.1 dg
      19  14  54   - 4.4
      21  14  52   + 5.1


* Comet Hyakutake, C/1996 B2, should -- with luck and a fairly dark sky -- be visible to the naked eye by now. Look between Beta Librae and the feet of Virgo, a sky area that's highest in the south around 3 or 4 a.m. local time. Binoculars will help. Charts showing the location of Comet Hyakutake throughout March and April are in the April issue of Sky & Telescope, page 10.


* LOOK FOR COMET HYAKUTAKE BELOW ARCTURUS. The comet that we hope will become "the Great Comet of 1996" is just three days from its closest approach to Earth. Tonight and tomorrow night, newcomers to skywatching have an easy chance to locate the comet without knowing the constellations. Here's how.

Go out around 11 p.m. or midnight local time and find a dark site far from glary lights. Face east, look high, and spot the brightest star in this part of the sky. The star is Arcturus; you can't miss it.

Hold your fist out at arm's length in front of you. Sighting past it, look one fist-width below Arcturus. That's the location of the comet's head. If the comet is displaying a tail, the tail will extend to the right. Bring binoculars for a better view!

The darker your sky the more visible the comet will be. For best results, observe under a country sky that's free from the glow of light pollution, which washes out much of our view of the universe from heavily populated areas.


* COMET HYAKUTAKE LEFT OF ARCTURUS. Find Arcturus again as described for yesterday. The comet is now about a fist-width to Arcturus's left. It may be noticeably larger than last night.


* MORE COMET HYAKUTAKE. Now you can start from Arcturus as early as 10 or even 9 p.m. local time. Look for the head of Comet Hyakutake about two fist widths to Arcturus's left. The comet is about equidistant from Arcturus and the end star in the handle of the Big Dipper, which is higher in the northeast.

The view should get somewhat better later in the evening, when the comet, Arcturus, and the Big Dipper all rise higher into a less light-polluted part of the sky.

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