Yuji Hyakutake (1950–2002)

Yuji Hyakutake (1951—2002) with his powerful 6-inch Fujinon binoculars.
Copyright 1996 Tenmon Guide, by Akira Otawara
Renowned amateur astronomer and comet discoverer Yuji Hyakutake died on Wednesday night from internal bleeding caused by an aortic aneurysm. He was 51 years old.

Hyakutake is most remembered for his 1996 comet that bore his name. Regarded by many as the most stunning of the past decade, the comet (C/1996 B2), amazed skywatchers worldwide with its nearly 100°-long tail.

He discovered the visitor with a pair of Fujinon 25x150 binoculars from a mountaintop near his home in the village of Hayato in Kyushu's Kagoshima Prefecture, about 950 kilometers southwest of Tokyo. His first comet find, C/1995 Y1, came only six months after he began his weekly dedicated comet hunts. But it was his second discovery that earned him worldwide recognition.

In an interview that appeared in Gekkan Tenmon (Monthly Astronomy) in April 1996, Hyakutake related the story of his monumental find: "It was [at dawn on January 30th] when I unexpectedly came across a cometlike object. . . . I was very familiar with the star field of this area because I had often observed C/1995 Y1 there. . . . I said to myself, 'I must be dreaming.'

"I left my binoculars for a while to calm myself down, and then I started drawing the cometlike object relative to the background stars. It was much more condensed than C/1995 Y1. . . 11th magnitude, 2.5' in diameter."

Comet Hyakutake
Comet Hyakutake C/1996 B2
Courtesy Gerald Rhemann and Franz Kersche.

The new comet soon delighted skywatchers as it put on the best display since Comet West in 1976.

"I'm a bit perplexed by all the attention paid to me, when it is the comet that deserves the credit," Hyakutake later said of his instant fame.

Yuji Hyakutake leaves behind a wife, Shoko, and two sons.