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This comet's headed our way...relatively speaking.
Comet Hyakutake This is how Comet Hyakutake looks through a state-of-the-art 3.5 meter telescope. Comet Hyakutake was discovered Jan. 31, 1996, by Japanese amateur astronomer Yuji Hyakutake. The comet is easily visible to the naked eye and is passing closer to Earth -- a mere 9.3 million miles away -- than any other comet of the past 400 years.

The picture was taken by astronomer Walt Harris of the Space Astronomy Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with the WIYN Telescope, the newest telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona. The telescope collects all visible light from an object and uses it to construct an image like the one we see here. Color can be added by computers (false color) or by using various filters. For example, filters can isolate light of certain chemical elements like helium and, using that color, show its distribution in the coma or tail of a comet. Astronomers can often tease more detail out of an image that has little or no color.

If you like, you can see more pictures like this by going to Kitt Peak and visiting the folks at NOAO, the National Optical Astronomical Observatories, operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.


       
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