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The Question

(Submitted March 20, 1997)

What's the best time to view comets?

The Answer

The best time to view a comet depends on its individual orbit and its brightness. The recent comet, Hale-Bopp, had an orbit that took it higher into the evening sky and lower in the morning so that in April, the evening view became more and more impressive.

Scientists believe that Hale-Bopp might have also been on one of its early trips into the inner solar system. It last visited the inner solar system about 4,000 years ago. Because it has come close to the Sun only a few times before, it shed much more dust and gases than comets which have come through the inner solar system many times. Comet Halley, for instance, has been through the inner solar system many many times and so it tends to shed much less material.

In addition to the Sky & Telescope site, you may want to check out: The Hale-Bopp Page.

For more general information about comets, we suggest

http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/?comets

Comets have been very much in the news the last few years: we hope you find observing them to be rewarding!

Jesse Allen
for Imagine the Universe!

Questions on this topic are no longer responded to by the "Ask an Astrophysicist" service. See http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/ask_an_astronomer.html for help on other astronomy Q&A services.

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