Comet Hyakutake


Out of the Blue

Do you remember comet Kohoutek? Discovered in March 1973, astronomers predicted Kohoutek would put on a magnificent display as it emerged from behind the Sun the following January. NASA even published a Kohoutek observing guide which was widely distributed to teachers and journalists. When Kohoutek emerged in early 1974, the predicted cosmic spectacle turned out to be a cosmic dud. Having peaked at about 4th magnitude before slipping behind the Sun, Kohoutek emerged not brighter but having dimmed. Kohoutek was visible to experienced backyard observers but practically invisible to the public at large. An understandable consequence of this debacle was that the news media displayed a keen skepticism when confronted with predictions about bright comets.

Not all comets fizzle. When Japanese amateur astronomer Yuji Hyakutake made his second comet discovery in as many months on the morning of January 30, 1996, he had no idea that his name would soon become famous around the world. Within a week of discovery, astronomers were discovering that comet Hyakutake (C/1996 B2) had the potential to become extremely bright. The astronomical community followed Hyakutake's progression with excitement as it brightened from a telescopic object at the time of discovery, to a binocular object by mid-February and to easy naked eye visibility by the night of its closest approach to Earth, March 25, 1996.

Comet Hyakutake put of a brilliant display. Located near the Big and Little Dippers, Hyakutake was the next brightest object in the sky after the Moon and Venus. The comet appeared as a Moon-sized fuzzball from an urban location. Its wispy tail could be traced well over 60 degrees from dark rural sites. Amateur astronomers around the world were enchanted by this Great Comet of 1996. It was exciting and totally unexpected.

Click on the below links to see my sketches and observations of Comet Hyakutake.

March 14, 1996 | March 16, 1996 | March 22, 1996 | March 27, 1996

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Revised: April 15, 2006 [WDF]