Two Nice Comets - just a year apart!
Comet Hyakutake, or more accurately "Comet C/1996 B2", took everyone by surprise in the spring of 1996 as it raced past earth, passing just over 9.3 million miles from us on its way into the inner solar system. As it sped past, it developed a beautiful blue "ion" tail, but, because of its composition and small size, failed to develop a yellowish "dust" tail. Contrast this to 1997's Comet Hale-Bopp, which was fairly far from earth, always further away from us than the Sun. If this large comet would have passed as close to earth as Hyakutake did , the sight would have been truly mind-blowing ! But earth's great distance from Hale-Bopp had one advantage for northern hemisphere observers: we had plenty of time to view the comet. And what a great sight it was from a dark-sky location! Both its slightly curved dust tail and its straight bluish-white ion tail were clearly visible and easily photographed.
Comet Hale-Bopp and Comet Hyakutake sure provided a nice year for comet watching. Are there more bright comets coming before the turn of the millennium? Let's hope so!