Comet Party,
Saturday, March 23, 1996,
Holley's Field

We had a good turn out for the big event.  In attendance were:  Robert Rock,
Paul McGee, Ron and Jeanetta Hatherley, Jim McLaughlin, Marty and Duwayne
Skelton, Allen and Christy Screws, Mike Fulmer and yours truly. 

After two and a half days of cerulean skies, cirrus clouds began to drift in
as I was loading up my truck.  The Weather Channel showed a break in the
clouds that followed the initial wave of  the approaching storm front.  

It was 6:00 pm when I arrived at the field. The sky was completely overcast.
After setting up the telescope, we cooled (quite litterally) our heels,
catching glimpses of Venus and the Moon as small holes in the clouds permitted.

By 8:00 pm, Hyakutake was seen through the cirrus clouds teasing us like an
exotic dancer behind a diaphanous veil.  We waited. 

By 9:00 pm, more and more "holes" in the clouds were revealing patches of
black sky with brilliant stars.  Still, Hyakutake hid coyly as if waiting
for just the right moment to make her debut.  

At 10:00 pm, as if the entire evening had been choreographed, the "house
lights" were lowered as the four- day-old moon set; the veil was lifted as
the clouds disappeared; and the comet revealed her radiant beauty to us.

A large round coma, a short fan shaped dust tail, followed by a much
narrower gas, or ion tail, that extended all the way to Alpha, Comae
Berenices, 30 degrees away!  Some of us noticed a distinct bluish hue  in
the coma when viewed with binoculars.  Through the telescopes we saw the
small yellowish jet that looked like flame from a welder's torch. Motion was
perceptible over just a few minutes.  

Persistence and good luck rewarded us with a memory that will be with us
forever.  The pleasure of sharing this event with other kindred spirits
makes it all the better.


Russell Whigham