Iowa State University

Phil Appleton, Physics and Astronomy, (515) 294-3667
Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917


AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State astronomers will have an open house at the Erwin Fick Observatory, near Boone, on April 12 to allow members of the public to say their last good-byes to Comet Hyakutake. It may not be back for quite awhile.

Astronomers now figure the comet's orbital period around the Sun is roughly 14,000 years, meaning it's return to the solar system will be roughly the year 16,000, said Phil Appleton, an ISU associate professor of physics and astronomy.

Appleton said the timing of the open house is to take advantage of the first good moonless night since the comet's closest approach to Earth in late March. Although the comet will be further away from the Earth than in March, it will be closer to the Sun and therefore more active and visual.

The open house will be from 8 to 10 p.m. Friday, April 12, weather permitting. Saturday, April 13, is the backup day for the open house.

Astronomers from Iowa State and the Ames Area Amateur Astronomers will provide guidance in finding the comet, and the public will have an opportunity to see images of the comet taken by ISU staff. If weather conditions are uncertain, call (515) 294-3667 for updated information about the open house.

The Fick Observatory is located near Moingona, west of Boone. Take highway 30 west to R18, which is just before the ski- slope. Go south on R18 for almost two miles until you see a sign for "observatory". Turn east on 240th Street, go past the Quincy cemetery and turn south onto the Observatory Drive. Please dim your lights as you approach the observatory parking lot.

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