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Hyakutake, The Movie
the great comet HyakutakeMiss the great comet Hyakutake? No problem. Grab some popcorn, sit back and enjoy the digital film debut of the comet [14,939kb] that swept through our neighborhood earlier this year. This "movie" is actually a series of images taken over a six-hour span at the WIYN Observatory on Kitt Peak, Ariz. The movie reveals the comet tumbling through space spraying jets of icy particles like an interplanetary lawn sprinkler. Unveiled last week at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, the movie sparked interest among students of comets because it gives them an unprecedented look at the dynamic features of a comet over an extended period of time. The comet's jets, for example, appear to be turning on and off as the comet nucleus rotates. This may be because of shadows obscuring the jet-like features, or, it may be that the jets are indeed turning off as they rotate away from the sun. Many astronomers believe the sun is responsible for the jets by heating the frigid surface of the comet.

The movie was made by digitally splicing 60-second exposures taken at 7-minute intervals. It was put together by a team that included Walter Harris of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Kent Honeycutt of Indiana University. The WIYN Telescope, a 3.5-meter telescope with one of the world's most perfect astronomical mirrors, is operated by a consortium that includes Wisconsin, Indiana, Yale and the National Optical Astronomical Observatories, an arm of the National Science Foundation.

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