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Comet Hale-Bopp Update



Sky & Telescope News Bulletin
April 4, 1997

On April 1st Comet Hale-Bopp (C/1995 O1) passed its closest to the Sun when 137 million km (0.91 a.u.) away and traveling 44 km per second. S&T contributing editor John Bortle reports that the comet is magnitude -0.5. Its twin tails, pointing northward, are each nearly 20 degrees long as viewed from his dark-sky site. This is the last full week you can view Hale-Bopp at its peak without interference from the Moon, which returns to the evening sky in the coming days. For the best views, look at least 1-1/4 hours after sunset when the sky is completely dark. Comet Hale-Bopp should be obvious about 20 to 30 degrees above the northwestern horizon (depending on your latitude).


Comet Hale-Bopp is still at its best! Look for it fairly low in the northwestern sky right after the end of twilight -- a bright, fuzzy "star" with a tail. The comet is glowing at about magnitude -1, as bright as the brightest stars.

Any light pollution in your sky will diminish what you can see of the comet's tail. But its head is bright enough to show even through bad city light pollution. Binoculars will give a grand view under any conditions. A good amateur telescope shows a wealth of bright detail around the comet's nucleus.

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


Look low in the west about 50 or 60 minutes after sunset for the thin waxing crescent Moon with Mercury shining to its right. Comet Hale-Bopp is off to their upper right. The comet becomes more apparent as twilight dims further.

The eclipsing variable star Algol (just to the upper left of Comet Hale-Bopp's head) should be at its minimum brightness, magnitude 3.4 instead of its usual 2.1, for a couple of hours centered on 7:03 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (convert to your time zone). Algol takes several additional hours to rebrighten.


Spot the crescent Moon in the west an hour after sunset. Mercury is far to its lower right. Comet Hale-Bopp is farther to the Moon's upper right. The comet's head is just below the 2nd-magnitude star Algol this evening and tomorrow evening.


The brightest star rather high in the northwest at the end of twilight is Capella. (It's far to the upper right of the Moon.) Below Capella shines Comet Hale-Bopp. Off to the comet's left, in front of its head, is the little Pleiades star cluster.

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