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The Hyakutake Comet
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Michael Brown (University of Melbourne), Chris Fluke (University of Melbourne) and Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories

DISCOVERED! X-rays from comet Hyakutake
News story originally written on May 18, 1997

A bit of background

The solar wind coming from the Sun can steal electrons from atoms found in comets. These stolen electrons start off very excited (with lots of energy). Electrons can't stay in an excited state for very long. They get "tired" just like humans do. So they give off energy so they can become less excited. When the energy is given off, we can detect a x-ray. So by looking at x-rays, we can figure out where a comet is in space.

The details of the discovery

On March 27, 1996, observations were taken of the Comet Hyakutake by a German satellite. X-rays (the first from any comet) were detected at this time. Very powerful computers were then used to figure out the relationship of the x-rays to the location of the head of the comet.

This new theory of a comet's x-rays will be tested on the Comet Hale-Bopp using Japan's ASCA x-ray satellite in September.

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