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First Naked-Eye Sighting of Halley’s Comet Reported

Two astronomers at Jet Propulsion Laboratory have seen Halley’s Comet with the naked eye, the first report of persons viewing the comet unaided during its current visit.

“We jumped around and gave a few yells into the night air for the coyotes to hear,” astronomer Charles Morris said.

Morris and Steve Edberg, another JPL astronomer who is also the coordinator for amateur observations for the International Halley Watch, saw the comet early Friday morning from a turnout off Angeles Crest Highway near Mount Waterman, 7,000 feet above sea level.

“It’s the first naked-eye sighting to my knowledge,” said Brian Marsden, director of the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, a clearing house for such sightings in Cambridge, Mass.

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The comet is still far too dim for most people to be able to see it, although if the weather permits, it should be visible this weekend through binoculars. The two astronomers found the comet first with binoculars and then were able to observe it without optical aids because they knew exactly where to look.

Halley will grow in brightness for several months before it disappears on the other side of the sun in February. When it reappears in March, it should look more like a comet, sporting a tail. The comet will be at its brightest just before dawn the first week in April.


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