Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

March 13, 1996

Here Comes Comet Hyakutake
Credit: Oscar Pizarro, 1-metre Schmidt Telescope, La Silla, Chile, European Southern Observatory

Explanation: The reaction of ancient peoples to the appearance of bright comets has toppled empires, de-throned kings, and been taken as a sign of great things to come. Probably some of these comets did not get as bright as Comet Hyakutake ("hyah-koo-tah-kay") will in the next two weeks. It is likely that every major news organization will soon cover Comet Hyakutake extensively. Comet Hyakutake is shown above already showing a tail of dust. This image, taken directly from a photographic negative, shows stars as black spots and the bright comet coma and tail as dark clouds against the white background of space. During its closest approach to the Earth on March 25th, Comet Hyakutake will appear in the Northern hemisphere as a diffuse ball of light brighter than most stars. Comet Hyakutake will be visible then most of the night even without binoculars, passing above the stars in the handle of the Big Dipper. Comet Hyakutake will be best seen in dark skies far from city lights, where its tail - possibly extending 20 degrees or more - will be most easily visible. As Comet Hyakutake recedes from the Earth it will fade, but brighten again as it nears the sun later in April. At that time it will be best seen in the southern hemisphere. There is no chance Comet Hyakutake will hit the Earth.

Tomorrow's picture: Comet Hyakutake's Orbit

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
&: Michigan Tech. U.