Comet Hale-Bopp Still Lives

Although it has been more than a decade since Comet Hale-Bopp blazed in the night sky, it’s still sputtering as it continues to head into cold, trans-Neptunian space.

Comet Hale-Bopp
Comet Hale-Bopp amid its glory on March 17, 1997. The comet still shines in the outer solar system, but at a mere 20th magnitude.
Dennis di Cicco
In a paper submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters, a trio of Hungarian and Australian astronomers describe capturing the most distant cometary activity ever seen.

The team imaged Hale-Bopp over three nights last October, when the comet was nearly 26 astronomical units (2.4 billion miles) from the Sun. At 20th magnitude, it wasn’t much to look at, just a smudge about a dozen pixels across as captured using the 2.3-meter Australian National University telescope at the Siding Spring Observatory. But the images were enough for the researchers to conclude that the nucleus is still releasing carbon monoxide gas into a coma more than 100,000 miles wide.

4 thoughts on “Comet Hale-Bopp Still Lives

  1. Tom Fleming

    Had the Earth been a little further along in its orbit at the time of Hale-Bopp’s perihelion, inhabitants of this planet would have seen a -12th mag. comet whose coma would have encompassed several degrees of sky. Being at opposition as viewed from the Earth, it would have arisen at sunset and dominated the nighttime sky. Hard to imagine mankind’s varied responses to this visage.

  2. Alan

    This is one of the first comets I photographed sucessfully using a 35 mm camera, 200 mm telephoto lens. It was beautiful. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

  3. Alan

    This is one of the first comets I photographed sucessfully using a 35 mm camera, 200 mm telephoto lens. It was beautiful. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

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