By GRETCHEN WILSO
A newly discovered flying object in the night sky will be visible to the naked eye over the next couple weeks.
Comet Hyakutake will pass through the sky looking like a fuzzy star, according to Harold McNamara, professor of physics and astronomy.
“It won’t be quite as bright as a star. We don’t know if it will fizzle or be bright,” McNamara said.
This fuzzy but visible part of the comet is the coma, or the dust and gas surrounding the comet’s nucleus. As comets get closer to the sun, the comas become sharper and more well-defined but not as visible.
At this time, the tail of the comet is most visible. Tails are dust and gas pushed away from the comet’s coma and usually point away from the sun.
“This comet’s tail will be largest around May 1,” McNamara said. “This is its closest approach to the sun being 19 million miles away (from the sun).”
McNamara compared comets to dirty snowballs. As comets come in closer to the sun, the materials in the comet change from solid to gas. Comets are typically 10 miles in diameter.
Between March 24 and 27, the comet will pass between the Little and Big Dippers, and then move to Polaris, the North Star.
“Everyone knows those,” McNamara said.
Comet Hyakutake will pass 10 million miles from the Earth.
“This is very unusual. It’s rare that comets pass this close,” McNamara said.
McNamara also explained the relationship between comets and meteors or “falling stars.”
“The debris left over in comet tails are often in meteors or what people call falling stars,” he said.
Comet watch parties will be announced at a later time by the BYU Astronomical Society.
Comet Hyakutake was discovered Jan. 30 by Yuji Hyakutake in Kagoshima, Japan.