March 26, 2002
The photo above was taken in Quebec, Canada and shows Comet Ikeya-Zhang, named for the two comet-hunters who first discovered it. During the past few weeks, a number of stargazers have had an opportunity to observe this photogenic comet. It's faint blue color (hard to see on this photo) and spirited tail have made it one of the most photographed comets since Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. On March 18, the comet's orbit brought it only 0.5 AU from the Sun (half the distance between the Earth and Sun) - its closest approach in approximately 400 years. It's proximity to the Sun has caused debris to evaporate from its icy nucleus, resulting in noticeable brightening. It's as bright a 3.8 magnitude star now - visible to the unaided eye in dark locations. Look for it low in the west-northwest about 45 minutes or so after sunset. Viewers in the Northern Hemisphere will actually have a better chance to see this comet in mid to late April. It'll then be visible a couple of hours before sunrise in the northeast, and it'll appear higher in the sky than it does currently.