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This is one of the latest images of comet Hale-Bopp. Notice the intense tail
Click on image for full size
National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

Comet Hale-Bopp update
News story originally written on March 10, 1997

Comet Hale-Bopp is expected to give a spectacular show to the world as it reaches peak brightness in the skies this month. According to an update from the European Space Observatory, Hale-Bopp is set to be one of the brightest comets in recent history. The comet is currently visible in the early morning sky, and later this month it will be visible in the evenings.

The comet's tail is currently at a length of 10 degrees and is expected to expand to about 25 degrees later this month. As the image at left shows, the tail width and length are much larger than expected, meaning that the comet is much brighter.

Because of this unusual tail, astronomers are currently contemplating whether or not the comet's nucleus will split. If this does occur, the heating from the sun will create more evaporation from the nucleus' parts and we can expect a dramatic increase in brightness.

Chemically speaking, Hale-Bopp also has some unusual characteristics. Most interesting is the detection of ionized hydrogen carbon monoxide (HCO+) in the comet. This compound has never been noticed in a comet before. Other chemicals found in the comet include, sodium (Na), sulfur monoxide (SO), ionized carbon monoxide (CO+), cyanogen radical (CN), and water (H2O).


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