Comets Old and New

Comet Hale-Bopp, April 1,1997.
(Camera: Yashica FX-3 Super 2000; Lens: Yashica 28mm; Film: Kodak Ultra Gold 400)

Comets bright enough to be seen without a telescope or binoculars are rare. Those that can rightly be called “great comets,” are rarer still. For stargazers of my generation, a long drought finally broke in the 1990’s when two great comets appeared in rapid succession. The first of these was Comet Hyakutake, which arrived in the spring of 1996, but was long gone before many people even knew about it. A year later, Comet Hale-Bopp rose to prominence. In March and April 1997, Hale-Bopp was so bright that I could see it from my living room window in downtown Vancouver. Under a pristine, dark sky, it was beyond magnificent.

But as I noted, comets like Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake are unusual. Far more typical are those that never reach naked-eye brightness, like Comet Garradd, which can be seen right now. To glimpse this icy visitor you’ll need good conditions far from city lights, a keen eye, and binoculars or a small telescope. (Go here to learn more about Comet Garradd.) When will we see another Hyakutake or Hale-Bopp? No one knows. But the next great comet is out there somewhere and could arrive any time.

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4 Responses to Comets Old and New

  1. And we continue to wait Gary……

    It’s time for another northern hemisphere comet of significance. The double barrel shotgun of Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake still echos in my mind. Hale-Bopp was so big and hung around so long. I watched it out the car windshield driving down the road. Surreal! Will we be due before the end of this decade? Maybe. The whole decade of the 80’s saw nothing like it. Holmes in 2007 was very bright, but did not sport an elegant tail.

    These eyes, and my camera awaits…..

  2. Gary says:

    Here’s hoping James — I’d love to see what you could do with a bright comet. My fear is that something like Hale-Bopp is a once-in-a-lifetime, which means we’ve been doubly lucky since we also got Hyakutake, which was, in my estimation, even more impressive. Both comets were best seen from up north, so I was for once (twice) glad to be here in Canada for a change!


  3. we are way overdue for another bright comet with a long tail!
    When are you coming back to TSP?

  4. Gary says:

    Texas is a long way from Victoria! I hope to get back to the TSP one day. I’ve been three (4?) times, and it’s a fine event with some excellent observers. Only distance keeps me away.