Planetary Science Research Discoveries HOT IDEA HEADERposted February 14, 1997 (updated March 11, 1997) 1997 Apparition of Comet Hale-Bopp
Observing Comet Hale-Bopp
by Karen Meech

Binocular and naked-eye views of the sky from the darkest location possible should result in some satisfying comet-watching. Consult local astronomy groups and newspapers for details on viewing comet Hale-Bopp where you live. Or link now to PSR Discoveries visibility tables for Denver or New Orleans.

A Comet Hale-Bopp Positions generator [was] also available on-line from the United States Naval Observatory, Astronomical Applications Department. The position of the comet during twilight can be obtained for any location in local time.

Observing Opportunities from Hawaii

The comet moves fairly far north when it is at its brightest, and will not therefore be optimally placed for viewing from Hawai`i, however, it should be visible in the morning skies in February and March, and in the evening skies during April and May. The figure and table, below, show the visibility from Hawai`i.

HB Visibility In the figure, solid circles indicate when the comet rises (in the morning) and sets in the evening. The sunrise and sunset on each date are shown as heavy lines, and the other 2 lines represent the beginning (in the morning) or end (evening) of nautical twilight (NTwi) and the beginning (morning) or end (evening) of astronomical twilight (ATwi). The comet should be easily visible during the astronomical twilight, and may be visible well into the nautical twilight (note, civil twilight is not plotted).

The table indicates that the comet will not be very high above the horizon while the sky is quite dark, i.e. during astronomical twilight. The best time to see the comet from Hawai`i from this point of view will be near Feb 20 in the morning (between 5-5:30) and again in mid April in the evening at the end of twilight. The times in the table should be accurate to about 5 minutes, but will depend on the geometry of the observer's horizon. The magnitudes were based on an early extrapolation of the lightcurve. However, after the brightness seemed to stagnate from July through October 1996, again brightening in November, some astronomers are being more conservative in the maximum brightness prediction, suggesting it may reach between -0.5 and -1.0.


Visibility of Comet Hale-Bopp from Hawaii
(revised on 11 March 97)
* see below for other localities

DateComet RiseBeg ATwiAltitudeBeg NTwiAltitudeSunriseMag
Feb 015:15 am5:41 am11.4 deg6:07 am17.4 deg6:47 am
Feb 104:58 am5:39 am14.8 deg6:05 am20.8 deg6:45 am
Feb 204:44 am5:33 am16.0 deg5:59 am21.7 deg6:39 am
Mar 014:42 am5:29 am15.1 deg5:54 am20.2 deg6:33 am
Mar 104:54 am5:22 am10.7 deg5:48 am15.5 deg6:25 am-0.1
Mar 205:32 am5:14 am- 5:40 am06.7 deg6:17 am-0.5
Mar 30- 5:03 am- 5:30 am- 6:09 am-0.6
DateComet SetEnd NTwiAltitudeEnd ATwiAltitudeSunsetMag
Mar 207:14 pm7:21 pm- 7:46 pm- 6:41 pm-0.5
Mar 308:14 pm7:23 pm12.8 deg7:50 pm08.3 deg6:46 pm-0.6
Apr 108:48 pm7:28 pm19.5 deg7:53 pm14.6 deg6:47 pm-0.4
Apr 208:55 pm7:31 pm21.1 deg7:58 pm15.5 deg6:51 pm0.0
Apr 308:43 pm7:35 pm18.8 deg8:03 pm12.9 deg6:53 pm0.5
May 108:25 pm7:39 pm14.5 deg8:07 pm08.2 deg6:57 pm1.1
May 208:02 pm7:45 pm08.1 deg8:14 pm- 7:02 pm1.7
May 307:36 pm7:49 pm- 8:20 pm- 7:07 pm2.2


Visibility of Comet Hale-Bopp from Denver or New Orleans


Where to Find Comet Hale-Bopp

Click on the buttons below to bring up the finder chart for the desired month.


February Finding Chart February. The comet should reappear after solar conjunction in the morning skies in late January. It will be difficult to observe during early February, accessible only during the early morning twilight hours. At the beginning of the month, the comet will have a declination of only +15 degrees, and be found just north of the constellation Aquila. During the month the comet will brighten rapidly and move north.

March Finding Chart March. During the month of March, the comet will brigthen to something easily accessible to the general public, as it moves closer to the sun. It will move toward being visible in the evening sky late in March. The comet will be passing south of the prominent constellation of Cygnus towards Andromeda. On the date of its closest approach to Earth, March 22, the comet will be just NW (by several degrees) of the Andromeda nebula (M31) which will just be rising in the twilight.

April Finding Chart April. During late March and early April the comet will be visible in the northwest sky just after sunset, and it should be approaching its maximum brightness. During the month, the comet will move from Andromeda to Perseus and Taurus, and during the last week it will be located just east of the star cluster the Pleiades. During late April the moon will interfere with observations as the comet fades.

May Finding Chart May. The dust tail development should peak during May and June, but the comet will probably be lost to observation by the general public during the month. The comet begins to move south, by late June passing south of the celestial equator. During the fall, the comet will be accessible by binocular or small telescope to southern hemisphere observers only, as it reaches a maximum southern declination of -65 degrees during January 1998.


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