What is Hyakutake?
Comet Hyakutake was a naked-eye comet that made its closest approach to Earth in March 1996 after being discovered just two months earlier. Yuji Hyakutake first spotted the comet in January 1996 using 25x150 binoculars.
The amateur comet-hunter had quit his newspaper job in 1994 specifically to move to an area with less light pollution and dedicate more time to searching the skies.
According to Sky and Telescope magazine, he spent four nights a month scanning the stars from about 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. His first comet discovery came on Christmas Day 1995, when he spotted what was later designated C/1995 Y1. The more famous discovery came just five weeks later.
First spotted through binoculars, the comet remained visible to the naked eye for three months and was the brightest comet seen in 20 years. Its tail was perhaps its most spectacular feature, stretching out more than 100 degrees as seen from Earth, according to NASA.
Completely coincidentally, Hyakutake's appearance happened just a year before Comet Hale-Bopp, then known to be approaching Earth, that made a spectacular appearance in skies in 1997. Thousands of images of the comets were posted on the Internet, then a young but popular phenomenon.
In statistics released by Harvard University at the time, the university said that was the closest of any comet since 1983 and the fifth-closest in a century. By some reports, Hyakutake was so close that you could see it move among the background.