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Comet Hyakutake - Windows to the Universe

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Comet Hyakutake on 3/22/96.
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Night of the Comet/NASA

Comet Hyakutake

Comet Hyakutake was found on January 30, 1996 by a Japanese amateur astronomer named Yuji Hyakutake. He spotted it using strong binoculars. The comet was visible from late March until late April, 1996. On March 25, the comet reached its closest approach to Earth of 9.3 million miles.

Comet Hyakutake has probably not approached Earth for thousands of years. Astronomers observing the comet found large quantities of the gases ethane (C2H6) and methane (CH4), so far not found in other comets. Astronomers for the first time also observed X-rays being emitted from a comet.

Finding these usual molecules in a comet suggests that comet Hyakutake may be a new type of comet. An abundance of ethane comparable to that of methane implies that comet Hyakutake must have experienced very different conditions during its birth than other comets that do not contain ethane. The newly discovered x-ray emission suggests a sophisticated interaction of this comet with the solar wind.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF