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Comet Hale-Bopp Update



Sky & Telescope News Bulletin
March 21, 1997

The Great Comet of 1997 is now entering "prime time." The twin-tailed spectacle is obvious in both the morning and evening skies from midnorthern latitudes. Comet Hale-Bopp sports a long, thin, faint gas tail and a shorter, broader, brighter dust tail. The interplanetary interloper comes closest to Earth on March 22nd, though it will be on the far side of the Sun and 197 million kilometers away at the time. Over the following two days the comet sails just 5 deg. north of M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. The comet's total visual magnitude is now about -0.5. To see Comet Hale-Bopp at its best you should look at least 1-1/4 hours before sunrise or after sunset, though its starlike inner coma can still be seen in twilight. It's about 20 deg. above the northeastern horizon before dawn, and roughly the same height above the northwestern horizon in the evening.

For more information about Comet Hale-Bopp from the editors of SKY & TELESCOPE, including images and finder charts, see SKY Online's Comet Page at


Skywatchers almost everywhere in the Americas will have a fine view of the Moon being eclipsed on the night of March 23rd, if the weather is clear. Viewed from Europe and Africa, the Moon will be in the western sky before or during dawn on the morning of the 24th. Adding to the scene will be the bright orange planet Mars about 12 deg. above or to the upper right of the Moon. Here are Eastern Standard Times of the major events: Partial eclipse begins at 9:58 p.m.; mid-eclipse is at 11:39 p.m.; partial eclipse ends at 1:21 a.m. March 24th (convert these to your local time zone). For a more complete timetable and a diagram showing the path of the Moon through the Earth's shadow, see SKY & TELESCOPE's online eclipse preview at


THE GREAT COMET OF 1997 is at its best and brightest for the next three weeks! Comet Hale-Bopp is shining at magnitude 0 or brighter, roughly as brilliant as the brightest stars in the sky. Go out right after dark and look northwest. There it is -- a big, fuzzy "star" with a tail.

The farther north you are, the higher the comet will appear. Observers in the Southern Hemisphere miss out until late April or May.

Any light pollution or moonlight will diminish what you can see of the comet, especially the tail. But binoculars will give a grand view under any conditions.

A SPECTACULAR PARTIAL ECLIPSE OF THE MOON occurs tonight! The sight will be a head-turner, with a dramatically darkened and reddened full Moon appearing to wear a brilliant white cap around the time of mid-eclipse. Adding to the scene will be bright orange Mars about 12 degrees above or to the upper right of the Moon.

The eclipse will take place high in a dark evening sky as seen from nearly all of the United States and Canada. In South America, eclipse time falls later in the night. In most of Europe and Africa, the partially eclipsed Moon will be low in the western sky before sunrise March 24th.

Here are Eastern Standard Times of the major events: Partial eclipse begins at 9:58 p.m.; mid-eclipse is at 11:39 p.m.; partial eclipse ends at 1:21 a.m. March 24th. Convert these to your time zone.

For more information see the March Sky & Telescope, page 82, or on the World Wide Web go to http://www/skypub/com/eclipses/m970323a.shtml.


At last the Moon is gone from the sky at prime evening comet-watching time, right after the end of twilight. With no moonlight in the sky, the peak of Comet Hale-Bopp's performance begins in earnest tonight and continues for the next two or three weeks.

Copyright 1997 Sky Publishing Corporation. S&T's Weekly News Bulletin is provided as a service to the astronomical community by the editors of SKY & TELESCOPE magazine. Widespread electronic distribution is encouraged as long as this paragraph is included. But the text of the bulletin and calendar may not be published in any other form without permission from Sky Publishing (contact S&T's Weekly News Bulletin and "Sky at a Glance" are available via SKY Online on the World Wide Web ( At present they are not available via electronic mailing list. comethome.gif Comet Hale-Bopp Home Page