Hale-Bopp Crosses the Threshold (from Eyepiece, April 1997)

March 9, 1997—Due to the lousy weather, it had been well over a week since I had last ventured out before dawn to view our visitor from afar, but the change since the last time I had seen it was striking. At a glance, I saw that Comet Hale-Bopp had crossed the threshold to become a real presence in the morning sky. No longer just a somewhat wispy, starlike point, Comet Hale-Bopp has transformed into an eye-catching comet with a degree or two of fairly bright tail visible even from light-polluted Brooklyn. Its total brightness rivals Vega. The southward “fountain” of material streaming off the nucleus is visible to the naked eye, giving the comet a somewhat asymmetrical appearance. In binoculars the view is quite spectacular. The tail’s visibility persisted well into twilight. Hale-Bopp is already more impressive from the city than Hyakutake was. It reminded me a little of Comet West, which I last viewed in almost the same location in the sky almost 21 years to the day earlier—though Hale-Bopp is still a bit fainter and its tail not yet as splendid. But it’s still more than three weeks until perihelion. Who knows, maybe great cities and Great Comets can coexist for a while yet, even in this light-polluted age.

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