The Herald, Sharon,

comet photoComet Hale-Bopp
1997 World (Earth) Tour

comet orbit chart

SOURCE: Sky Publishing Co., The Associated Press

What to watch
Comets such as the Hale-Bopp circle the sun in lopsided orbits that carry them through the inner solar system every few millennia. Astronomers expect the comet to be as bright as the brightest stars when it passes Earth.

When and where to watch

If the sky is clear enough that even a few stars are visible, Comet Hale-Bopp should be visible. Also, the comet is up before the first light of dawn through much of the viewing period.

The comet has a starlike head, and is white or yellow-white in color. It's about as bright as the brightest stars, with a hazy head and a dimmer, filmy tail extending to the upper left.

March 10-19
The comet is fairly high in the predawn sky. It is shifting a little left toward the northeast and gradually brightening. The comet is also becoming visible low in the evening sky. Look low in the northwest just as the last glow of twilight is fading out. When the comet is seen in the evening sky, its tail extends to the upper right.

How to watch
Hale-Bopp, which was discovered July 23, 1995, will be easy to view. A comet does not shoot across the sky like a meteor. It will remain visible night after night for weeks on end, like a star or planet.

Find a dark viewing site, away from glary outdoor lights. The comet is best viewed in the country, but because it's so bright, it can be seen in suburbs and cities as well.

Binoculars or a small telescope will give a more detailed view. First find the comet with your naked eyes, then switch to whatever optical instrument you may have. If you have a telescope, use its lowest magnification. This will provide the best view.

March 20-22
The ever-brightening comet is now easy to spot fairly high in the northwest after dusk. Before the first light of dawn, it has started to sink a bit lower in the northeast, so that it's now balanced equally high at both times.

March 23
A big night for skywatchers on the West Coast, especially the Pacific Northwest. A partial moon eclipse will cleanse the sky of most moonlight from about 8:15 to 9 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, prime comet-watching time.

March 24 - April 10
Comet Hale-Bopp's peak performance. Look well up in the northwestern sky after the end of evening twilight. It will remain in good view for well over an hour after the end of twilight -- though the earlier you look after twilight, the higher it will be.

April 11-15
The comet has moved a little to the left; look west-northwest after the end of twilight.

April 16-23
The comet is fading and getting somewhat lower in the west-northwest.

April 24 - May 7
The comet continues to fade and sink lower in the west-northwest at the end of twilight.

May 8
The last hurrah. Comet Hale-Bopp will become increasingly difficult to see low in the fading glow of sunset.
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Updated March 24, 1997
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