Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

December 19, 1996
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Comet Hale-Bopp Inbound
H. Weaver (ARC), NASA

Explanation: Headed toward the inner Solar System, the much anticipated Comet Hale-Bopp has promised to put on a big show next spring. The comet's apparent brightness is currently approaching 4th magnitude and its inbound journey has been closely followed by many observers. But because it is now so near the Sun's position in the sky it is a difficult target for large ground based optical telescopes as well as the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope (HST). This series of HST images hints at the comet's evolution during the last year, illustrating active and quiescent phases. Hidden from direct view by the dusty cometary coma, Hale-Bopp's nucleus is centered in each frame. A single telescopic image of the comet has recently caused substantial activity on the internet based on false claims of the existence of a mysterious companion. However, the mystery guest turned out to be an 8th magnitude star! Many predict that by next spring telescopes large or small will not be needed to appreciate the true spectacle of Hale-Bopp as it blossoms into a naked-eye astronomical wonder.

Tomorrow's picture: The UV SMC from UIT

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
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