Below is one verse from a poem my wife wrote on comets. Other verses were specific to Halley and Hale-Bopp -- but Hyalutake (hyah . koo . tah . kay) came away with the honors:
You took my breath away,
And used it for a veil that stretched
Behind you and burned the
Starry sky with its cold grandeur.
Breathless then, I stood and stared
Finally, I understood
The awe the ancients felt
When they beheld a comet.
Ya know, I have some memory of that comet, was it in the winter that year, what, 95-96ish? It was over a weekend I think and I was going to have some friends over to see it. Either the night before or two nights before, I woke up around 3am I think and took a quick look outside and looked. Now either it was the comet of high clouds that looked like the comet and I couldn't believe how long the tail was! It looked like it covered maybe 20-30 degrees.....was that possible and did it ever appear high in the sky as most of the comets that I have seen hung in the west sky, like Hale Bopp?
I made a sketch centered around 10:35 UT on 25 March 1996. The comet's head was in Draco. The end of the tail was in Virgo. The tail was perhaps 3 to 4 degrees wide. The body of the comet passed through my zenith. I faced north to look toward Hyakutake's head. I faced south to see the farthest extent of its tail. I faced west and looked straight up in an attempt to take in the entire comet in a single view.
I took out a pair of 8x42 binoculars with me, but after one quick look with them I realized that *any* optical aid detracted from the viewing spectacle. -- Only the naked-eye could reveal the entire, huge expanse of the comet. The forward portion was *bright* -- bright enough to *easily* see color - a strong, vivid, memorable green-yellow glow.
In comparison, Hale-Bopp was a *tiny* but bright little 'flashlight' in the night sky. Glance a little in either direction and it was gone. I could turn my back to Hyakutake's head and still see a huge expanse of tail! To the naked eye there was no comparison. OTOH, I could have (should have) listed Hale-Bopp as another "wow" experience. With a telescope, I enjoyed making sketches of the intricate structures visible in Hale-Bopp's inner coma. But the naked-eye impact that Hyakutake had was truly indescribable. Nothing else I've seen (and I've seen *a lot*) comes close to the visual impact that Comet Hyakutake had on that night. I felt like I was some prehistoric early ancestor looking up at an unreal and threatening scene -- a massive sword in the night sky preparing to strike. It was an emotional experience.
So it was overhead, thought so, thanks. Like I said, never saw a comet that high in the sky. One more comment about Hale-Bobb. I was flying from LA to Boston just after sunset one night and as we climbed over the clouds, you could see the comet hanging above them. It was an awesome sight, had the captain dim the cabin lights and make the announcement to look at it. I put a blanket over my head to block out the remaining lights. No camera with me though:(