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Abrams Planetarium Comet Hyakutake Diary


Abrams Planetarium Comet Hyakutake Diary

Thursday, March 21
Comet Hyakutake already glows brighter than 2nd magnitude, and it's visible late evening through rest of night. Four hours after sunset, locate Big Dipper high in NE; its curved handle leads you to bright Arcturus in the east: "Follow the arc to Arcturus." Look for a fuzzy ball of light about 10 degrees below Arcturus. (Ten degrees is about the width of your fist held with your arm fully extended.) Binoculars may show the tail as a faint fan. The comet is now 13.4 million miles from Earth and closing!

Friday, March 22
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 comet may be a first magnitude fuzzball 9 degrees lower left of Arcturus and within 3 degrees lower right of Izar. Binoculars 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. Tonight it's easy to note the comet's motion against background stars, exceeding 0.5 degree (one Moon's width) per hour. At 3:30 a.m. EST Saturday morning, the comet's center passes 0.4 degree E of Izar, and the star will shine through the outer coma or dusty extended atmosphere of the comet. Viewing at MSU Observatory, Fri. & Sat. 9:15-11:00 p.m. if sky is clear.

Saturday, March 23
Comet is 30 degrees up in ENE within 3 hours after sunset. Look 20 degrees upper left of Arcturus and 15 degrees lower right of the end of Big Dipper's handle. The comet is near the northern end of the kite-shaped figure of Bootes (see chart). Watch comet drift outside the kite as hours pass. The comet shifts 18 degrees daily for next two days as it sweeps past Earth. About 3 hours 22 minutes before sunrise on Sunday, comet passes directly over northern U.S. [In Lansing, MI, that's at 3:11 a.m. EST.]

Sunday, March 24
At nightfall, the comet is already well up in the NE and about 10 degrees from the last two stars at the end of the handle of the Big Dipper. Early this week, Comet Hyakutake is predicted to reach its greatest brightness, between zero and 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 seem as bright as a star of the same magnitude. Late tonight (at 2 a.m. EST Monday), the comet passes only 9.5 million miles from Earth, while appearing to move nearly 0.8 degree (1-1/2 Moon's-widths) per hour.

At nightfall, locate the Little Dipper in the north. Kochab is the brightest star in the bowl of the Little Dipper, 17 degrees from and equal in brightness to Polaris, the North Star, at end of the Little Dipper's handle. Early tonight, the comet appears about 3 degrees upper right of Kochab. Overnight, watch changing alignment of comet with the two bright "Guardians of the Pole" in Little Dipper's bowl.

Tuesday, March 26
This evening, the comet passes within 4 degrees above Polaris, the North Star.

Wednesday, March 27
Comet 11 degrees upper left of Polaris at nightfall, and 14 degrees below it before dawn on Thursday. Overnight, Earth crosses comet's orbit plane, and we'll see the dust tail and thin sheet of cometary particles edge-on, perhaps appearing as a very narrow, bright line. March 28: Comet 11 degrees above "W" of Cassiopeia at nightfall. Moon brighter each night until Full on April 3.

March 31-April 5
Comet Hyakutake within 2 to 6 degrees of the 2nd- magnitude star Mirfak in Perseus. (Locate this star in NW, to upper left of the "W" of Cassiopeia and upper right of Venus.) Starting April 5, skies will once again be dark and moonless at nightfall.

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. The session will close with the Moon's complete emergence from Earth's shadow at 8:59 p.m. EST.

April 6-24
Comet gets lower in NW each day at nightfall; look 22 degrees from Venus Apr. 6-13. If comet brightens enough as it approaches the Sun, it might be seen in twilight for a few evenings past April 24.

------ End of Abrams Planetarium Comet Hyakutake Diary ------

Diary by Bob Victor
Comet Finder Chart by David Batch
Diary and Chart made available over the Internet
by Jenny Pon,

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