Credit & Copyright: European Southern ObservatoryExplanation: Late March and early April of 1996 marked a banner season for viewing the spectacular naked-eye comet Hyakutake. The spring of 1997 could well offer a similar cometary wonder, Comet Hale-Bopp. Discovered last year while approaching the inner solar sytem Hale-Bopp has been eagerly watched for signs that it will indeed brighten spectacularly. So far, things look good! This recent image of the comet was made on May 14 at the European Southern Observatory when the comet about 340 million miles from Earth. It is shown here using false colors to indicate relative brightness. Stars are visible through the expanding coma. Recent reports are that its level of activity, the rate of dust and gas production from the solar heating of the icy nucleus is as expected. An analysis of its orbit indicates that this comet will approach to within nearly 120 million miles of Earth on March 22, 1997. The orbital calculations also reveal that Hale-Bopp has visited the inner solar system before ... about 4200 years ago.
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& Michigan Tech. U.
Based on Astronomy Picture Of the Day