How Yuji Hyakutake Found His Comet
Here's how one searcher discovered a comet.
For Yuji Hyakutake, the 45-year-old Japanese amateur who found the Great Comet of 1996, the discovery was a dream come true. But his sudden worldwide fame was a little overwhelming. He found himself unable to comet-hunt because the spotlights of television crews followed him to his observing site. Fame, however, has had its rewards. Hyakutake was flown to the United States in March (1996) as a special guest of Chicago's Adler Planetarium, where he received hearty congratulations. "This comet is a lucky comet for me," he told the crowd through an interpreter.
Hyakutake (the name means "a hundred samurai") lives with his family in the village of Hayato, in Kyushu's Kagoshima Prefecture some 950 kilometers southwest of Tokyo. "I've been interested in comets since I was 15 years old, after I heard of the Japanese Comet Ikeya-Seki, which appeared in 1965," he says. "My interest in astronomy has increased steadily since then."
Hyakutake started searching for comets in 1989, but he began serious searching only after he quit his job as a newspaper photoengraver in 1994 and moved to Kagoshima, where the skies are darker and clearer. "Since last July I have been avidly searching the night sky for comets from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. about four nights a month." For his comet hunting Hyakutake brings his giant, pedestal-mounted 25x150 Fujinon binoculars to a rural mountaintop area about 15 km from his home to get a better view low to the east. His dedication paid off on Christmas Day of 1995, when he discovered his first comet, C/1995 Y1 (Sky & Telescope: March 1996, page 72). Five weeks later he found his famous one, C/1996 B2 (S&T: April 1996, page 10).