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Sky & Telescope News Bulletin - April 19, 1996



Comet Hyakutake's glory in the northern-hemisphere skies is drawing to a close as the comet heads toward its May 1st closest approach to the Sun, or perihelion. Hyakutake is visible in the northwest every clear evening around the end of twilight. The comet is now to the lower right of Venus by about three fist-widths at arm's length, and on the vertical directly below Capella. The comet will be so low that you'll need a good, open view of the northwestern horizon. You'll also have to look a little before twilight fades out completely.

While observers report that the comet is brightening again, it is not brightening as much as hoped. Charles Morris of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory notes that Hyakutake's rate of brightening is decreasing, prompting him to predict that the comet will only reach magnitude 0.5 at perihelion, not the -1 predicted earlier.

Besides brilliant Venus in the evening sky, fleeting Mercury is also in the area, having its best evening apparition of 1996. You'll find the innermost planet in the west-northwest just after sunset, a few degrees below the Pleiades. Don't delay, though -- Mercury sets just as twilight ends.


The comet is finally ending its month-long naked-eye showing, but it may go out with a bang. The comet is nearing its May 1st perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) and may develop a brighter head and tail even as it continues to move farther from Earth.

Hyakutake is getting very low in the northwest just around the end of twilight. Holding your fist at arm's length, look for it three fist-widths to the lower right of bright Venus as twilight darkens. (The planet Mercury appears about one fist-width to the comet's left early this week, and one fist to its upper left late in the week.) Use binoculars to watch the comet brighten daily as it descends toward the horizon.

After perihelion it will move south into view from the Southern Hemisphere only.

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