LONDON (Reuter) -- An amateur Japanese astronomer using binoculars has discovered a bright new comet streaking toward the Earth that could brighten night skies for weeks on end, astronomers said Wednesday.
Astronomers, amateur and professional, have been trying to watch the comet, which they predict will be the brightest in decades.
"Comet Hyakutake will be fairly bright and well placed for observation overhead at about the end of March," said Robin Scagell of Britain's Society for Popular Astronomy. "It's going to be only 10 million miles away from the earth at the time. We hope it will put on a very good show."
Yuji Hyakutake, an amateur astronomer living in Hayato, Kagoshima prefecture [Japan], found the comet on Jan. 30, according to the International Astronomical Union, which announced the discovery. He was using a large pair of binoculars frequently used by amateurs who scrutinize the sky in hopes of discovering a comet and having it named after them.
Astronomers who have looked at it since say it promises to be clearly visible to people watching from the ground. "It's going to be a good one," said Patrick Moore, spokesman for the British Astronomical Association. "It should be almost overhead and will be visible all night. We are hopeful that it will be the brightest one for 25 years."
Moore cautioned that this only applied for people watching from the northern hemisphere. "This time the Australians will miss it," he said.
The Royal Astronomical Society's Jacqueline Mitton was cautious about how dramatic the comet would be. "It should be a bright comet but because it's only been observed for a few days so far it's possible it might not be totally correct," she said.
Brian Marsden, associate director for planetary science at the Harvard-Smithsonian Institution Center for Astrophysics, said astronomers still did not know enough about comets to predict what Comet Hyakutake would do. "It is uncertain just how bright it will be," Marsden said. "It could get quite large because it is relatively close to us."
But he added that it could be like the "infamous" Comet Kohoutek, which disappointed millions in 1973 when it failed to put on the light show that some astronomers predicted.
Original file name: .CNI - Comet Coming 2.8
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