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How big is the comet hale-bopp's tail?

Date: Fri Mar 14 15:59:34 1997
Posted by: bob
Grade level: 4-6
School/Organization: maryburen
City: guadalupe State/Province: ca
Country: us
Area of science: Astronomy
Message ID: 858376774.As


How big is the comet hale-bopp's tail?

There are two ways to answer that question: how long is it really, and how long does it look?

According to the folks at, by late March the tail was about 80-100 million kilometers long. Compare that to the distance to the Sun, which is 150 million kilometers. The tail is l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g! From the Earth, that means the tail can be seen stretching for more than 30 degrees (a degree is 1/360 of the way around a circle, so there are 90 degrees from the horizon to straight overhead).

I live near a city, so I can't see the tail very well. But with binoculars I can see it pretty well, and I can even see that there are two tails. One is made of gas, and always points away from the Sun. The other is made of dust, and curves back along the comet's orbit. Pictures of Hale-Bopp show the two tails really well. I really recommend the site linked above, since it has lots of pictures and info about the comet. You can also do a web search on the words "comet", "hale-bopp" or any other words you think might relate to comets. You'll find lots of web pages!

But most of all, go outside and take a look! This comet won't be back for another 2000 years!

©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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