Comet Hyakutake - First View

Observing notes from early Sunday morning, March 10, 1996

Before going to bed, I entered the latest calculated orbital elements of Comet Hyakutake (C/1996 B2) into my EZCosmos software. It would transit at 4:00 am, which is much too early for me to get up, especially when it feels like it's fifty - eleven degrees below zero out there (still some lingering ice from Friday's snow left). Anyway, with a large and bright Moon nearby, I figured it would be futile. I printed out a chart for reference, and then went to bed.

Then comes 5:00 am. My beautiful, precious 8 month old daughter wakes Lynn and me up, demanding attention. After she quiets down, I normally bury my head in my pillow and try to drift back off to dream land. But, from the Moon light shining through the blinds, I could tell that it was a clear sky outside. I figured what the heck, let's try for it.

Donning my housecoat, I grabbed my 10x50 binoculars and the printed starchart, and step out onto my deck. BOY IS IT COLD!!! The wood is icy cold and my feet almost rebel and go back into the house without me. A fat waning, gibbous Moon hangs in the sky, lighting the ground with it's lunar glow. It's smack dab in the middle of Libra, only about 5 1/2 degrees from where Comet Hyakutake is suppose to be. The claws of Scorpius seem to point the way. Jupiter was up pretty high in the south eastern sky, shining like the Hope diamond.

According to the chart, the star Zebenelgenubi (don't ask me to say that) in Libra should be to right of the Moon, and the comet should be below this star, with all three of them forming a nice triangle. I could see Zebenelgenubi with my eyes, so I pointed the binoculars at it. Then I dropped down almost 3 degrees, and there it was, Comet Hyakutake!!! It was easily visible in my binoculars despite the nearby Moon. The Moon was actually causing a lot of bad glare, but I could still see the comet pretty well, considering. The coma/nucleus seemed brighter on one side, suggesting a tail. It looked like a big, squashed badminton birdie to me. And it was big, as big as some of the Messier star clusters I've seen (and this in a Moon lit sky). This comet is really going to put on a show in the next week or so.

Well the frigid wind was going places where I didn't want it to go, and my feet had long ago lost consciousness. I quickly zoomed over to Jupiter, and picked up a couple of the Gallilean moons. It was hard to hold the binoculars steady since I was shivering. Then I dashed back to Comet Hyakutake one last time to confirm that I wasn't imagining it.

This is going to be a GREAT COMET.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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