UW News

March 25, 1997

UW’s department of astronomy will host a public open house to provide a close-up view of Comet Hale-Bopp

That brilliant visitor to the Northwest sky, Comet Hale-Bopp, will be up close and personal at the University of Washington’s department of astronomy this week.

The department will be holding open house, weather permitting, for comet-watchers Thursday, Friday and Saturday, from 7 p.m. until 10 p.m. Visitors will be able to learn how the most spectacular comet in two decades — which is no more than a dirty ball of ice — has vital links to the Earth.

The public will be able to chat with astronomers, including UW professor Bruce Balick and lecturer Joanne Hughes, while they view the comet though telescopes and binoculars. From now until the end of April the comet’s intensely white surface and its two tails, one of blue- green gas and the other of yellow-white dust, are etched sharply against the night sky, about 20 degrees above the horizon. The comet, which is some 128 million miles away, can also be seen in the northeast, pre- dawn sky.

Also in the sights of the department telescopes at the open house will be the Orion Nebula — and in particular, its star-forming region — and the planet Mars, which at present is an intensely white- orange celestial presence, just 60 million miles from Earth.

More information on comets will be available on posters, and in lectures by astronomy professor Don Brownlee and researchers Mark Hammergren and Toby Smith. And the department ‘s planetarium will present a show called “Getting to Know the Sky.”

So what is the comet’s importance to Earth? The UW astronomers will discuss such topics as:

?Why would there possibly be no rain or oceans without comets? (Because a portion of the Earth’s water may have come from intense cosmic bombardment that included comets.)

? Why would life as we know it cease to exist if a comet the size of Hale-Bopp (about 25 miles in diameter) were to collide with the Earth? (The impact would release enough atmospheric pollution to destroy the entire food chain.)


The physics and astronomy buildings are at the corner of 15th Avenue NE and NE Pacific Street. Visitors are advised to dress warmly for outside viewing, and, if they have them, to bring their own binoculars.
For recorded information, call (543-0126), or contact:
Bruce Balick at (206) 543-7683, or balick@astro.washington.edu
Joanne Hughes at (206) 685-2155, or hughes@astro.washington.edu

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