Yet another great comet!

We were fortunate enough to have a naked-eye comet last spring, and now it looks like we have another already this year! And this one may be even brighter, probably the best comet this century (and just in time).

Astronomers have been tracking Comet Hale-Bopp since it was discovered in 1995, but comets are notoriously unpredictable astronomical objects. (This is because they are ``dirty snowballs'': they melt and spray stuff off into space, making them dynamic, rather than simple, static orbiting objects.)

So people were very careful about advance predictions. Now that it has reached the inner solar system, however, it reportedly has brightened to naked-eye visibility, at least for people in dark areas. (I haven't tried to see it yet.) So it looks like it really will be as great as has been hoped.

The main windows of visibility coming up will be Jan 2-21 before sunrise, Feb 1-19 before sunrise, and almost all of March, with the best viewing at the end of March, after sunset, when it should be absolutely dazzling.

But, if you happen to be up around 6:30am some time in the next few days, and there's a clear sky to the east, you should take a look. It'll be very low in the east. Comets do not appear to move. And since it hasn't passed the sun yet, there may not be much of a tail visible. It should appear as a fuzzy ball (clearly not a star or planet).

There's a Web page on comets.

There's also a map of Hale-Bopp against the stars for January.

(Posted 1/16/97)