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Archive for Sunday, March 24, 1996

COMET ENTERS CENTER STAGE

March 24, 1996

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Comet Hyakutake can be seen tonight in the northeast sky -- if skies are clear.

Looking for something to do at the half of tonight's basketball game? You could check out the comet.

Comet Hyakutake (hi-ya-koo-ta-keh) can be seen about 10 o'clock tonight in the northeastern sky.

"Basically, the people I've talked to haven't seen much of a tail on it," Steve Granzow, president of Astronomy Associates of Lawrence, said Thursday.

"Your best place to see it is in a place without lights, out in the countryside," Granzow said.

It appears as a fuzzy light.

"It's not a sharp object," he said. "It's about half the size of what a full moon would be."

Granzow said if the skies are clear tonight, the Clyde Tombaugh observatory in Kansas University's Lindley Hall will be open for public viewing. But call the observatory ahead of time at 864-3166 because it won't be open if the sky is cloudy, he said.

The comet should be visible, if the skies are clear, even earlier Saturday night. And on Sunday and Monday night, it will appear in an area of the sky between the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper for most of the evening, he said.

The comet was first seen Jan. 31 by Yuji Hyakutake, a professional photo engraver and amateur astronomer from Hyato, Japan. Following tradition, it was named for its discoverer.

"It has no known history and it hasn't been in the solar system for a few thousand years," said Barbara Anthony-Twarog, a KU professor of physics and astronomy.

Over the course of the next week, it will change positions, moving from the northeast to northwest skies, Anthony-Twarog said.

"This weekend and early next week should be good times to look at it," she said.

She recommended getting away from city lights and using binoculars.

Anthony-Twarog said astronomers don't really know what to expect in viewing the comet.

"The icier they are, the prettier they are," she said. "A beautiful comet may have two tails."

Granzow said the comet will be about as bright as Arcturus, the closest bright star to it tonight.

"If everything holds up, this is going to be the brightest comet passing this close to the Earth in 400 years," he said.

According to other sources, the comet's coma, or head, will appear much larger than a full moon.

It will pass within 9.3 million miles of the Earth on Monday. The closest planet, Venus, is 73 million miles away.

The space snowball, which will change positions in the sky each evening, is about 10 miles wide and is moving at 198,000 miles an hour.

Light from the moon will wash out the comet's visibility beginning Wednesday, obscuring the view through the first week of April.

It can be seen in the northwestern sky after dusk in the constellation Perseus between April 7 and 15.

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