Iowa State University


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


AMES, Iowa -- Astronomers from Iowa State University will be hosting an open house at the Erwin W. Fick Observatory, Mar. 29 and 30, and the star attraction will be a comet. The Fick telescopes will be trained on the comet Hale-Bopp, one of the brightest comets to visit our "neighborhood," said ISU associate professor of physics and astronomy Phil Appleton.

"The comet Hale-Bopp is one of the brightest comets of this century," Appleton said. "Although it comes no nearer to the Earth than one astronomical unit -- about 93 million miles or the average distance from the Earth to the Sun -- it's bright enough to be easily seen in the evening twilight sky. It's expected to reach its maximum brightness in late March or early April."

Discovered independently by amateur astronomers Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp in 1995, the Hale-Bopp comet continues to brighten in the sky and now is one of the brightest objects in the morning sky, Appleton said. It can be seen high in the eastern sky before sunrise or low in the north-western sky after sunset.

Viewing times at the Fick Observatory will be from 7:30 to 10:00 p.m. on Mar. 29 and 30. In addition to viewing the comet through the Fick telescopes, the public will have an opportunity to see images of the comet taken by ISU staff.

Rain dates for the open house will be April 5 and 6. 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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