KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The comet Hale-Bopp is visible now with the naked eye. Here’s what Paul Lewis, head of Astronomy Outreach for the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Physics Department, said you will need to find it:
* An unobstructed view of the eastern sky.
* A compass, to find due east.
* Binoculars for a better look.
* Perhaps some hot coffee, unless you are accustomed to being wide-awake anyway in the last hour or two before dawn.
Now you are ready to hunt Hale-Bopp.
Lewis said observers should first face east to find the three brightest stars in that part of the sky. If you could draw a line from one star to the second, and then the third, the lines would form an imaginary isosceles triangle. The equal sides will point south, to your right.
Now, look beneath the equal side nearest the horizon to find Hale-Bopp.
Forgot your high school geometry? Just look east above the horizon, or come to UT-sponsored comet viewing sessions planned for March and April, when the comet is expected to be most visible in the evening sky.
“It’s hard to miss,” said Lewis, describing Hale-Bopp “as bright as the brightest stars.”
“It is best viewed with a pair of binoculars. Many observers have reported seeing a short ‘tail’ emerging from the nucleus,” Lewis said.
Some astronomers have said Hale-Bopp, with a core that may measure 25 miles across, is thought to be the largest comet ever known to pass so close to Earth. It last passed near Earth approximately 4,200 years ago.
One UT viewing session is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 11, on the roof of the Nielsen Physics Building. More observation dates will be announced soon, Lewis said.
Contact: Paul Lewis (423-974-7815)