Astronomy Picture of the Day
APOD: 1996 February 8 - Hyakutake: The Great Comet of 1996?
Explanation: Get ready for one of the most impressive but least anticipated light shows in modern astronomical history. Next month, newly discovered Comet Hyakutake will pass closer to the Earth than any recent comet. Unknown before its discovery by Yuji Hyakutake on 30 January 1996, the fuzzy spot in the above photograph is a comet now predicted to become bright enough to see without a telescope. Although comets act in such diverse ways that predictions are frequently inaccurate, even conservative estimates indicate that this comet is likely to impress. For example, even if Comet Hyakutake remains physically unchanged, its close pass near the Earth in late March 1996 should cause it to appear to brighten to about 3rd magnitude - still bright enough to see with the unaided eye. In the next two months, though, the comet will continue to approach the Sun and hence should become brighter still. Optimistic predictions include that Comet Hyakutake will change physically, develop a larger coma and tail, brighten dramatically, move noticeably in the sky during a single night, and may ultimately become known as the "The Great Comet of 1996." Move over Hale-Bopp!
APOD: 1998 August 17 - Comet Hyakutake and the Milky Way
Explanation: Two years ago, the Great Comet of 1996, Comet Hyakutake, inched across our northern sky during its long orbit around the Sun. Visible above as the bright spot with the faint tail near the picture's center, Comet Hyakutake shares the stage with part of the central band of the Milky Way Galaxy, prominent in the picture's upper right. Also visible are Antares, the bright orange star in the upper right, Arcturus, the bright star on the lower left, and the Pipe Nebula, which is perhaps harder to find. Comet Hyakutake's unusually close approach to the Earth allowed astronomers to learn many things, including that comets can emit much X-ray light.
APOD: 1998 July 17 - Hyakutake: Stars Through A Comet's Tail
Explanation: Comets are cosmic icebergs. They follow very elongated orbits which carry them from the frozen, remote outer reaches of the Solar System to close encounters with the Sun. Heated by sunlight, they slough off layers of material as gas and dust, forming their characteristic awe-inspiring comas (heads) and tails. In the spring of 1996, Comet Hyakutake inspired Arizona photographers Rick Scott and Joe Orman to take this picture showing faint stars near the constellation Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper) shining through the comet's long, graceful tail. Blown by the solar wind, comet tails generally point away from the Sun.
Authors & editors:
& Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.