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Naked-eye comets are unusual enough, appearing as they do only every few years. Naked-eye comets which can be seen from an urban area, at a not-ungodly hour of the day are even less common. Two such comets in the sky at the same time is practically unheard-of.

That's why you may want to dust your binoculars off and mark the beginning of May 2004 on your calendar. If they brighten as predicted, both Comet NEAT and Comet LINEAR will be visible shortly after sunset on the western horizon, and will join the planets Jupiter and Saturn and the moon in a singularly spectacular astronomical display. (Of course, they may not. The experience with Comet Kohoutek in 1973 made astronomers much more cautious in announcing a spectacular showing before they could be certain of it.)

Both comets were discovered by robots, ones much nicer than Klaproth, because they don't eat anyone's wu's. NEAT (also known as C/2001 Q4) to enquiring minds) is a discovery of the Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking program, while LINEAR (C/2002 T7) was found by the Lincoln Laboratories Near-Earth Asteroid Research program.

Comet NEAT is expected to brighten to about 1st or 2nd magnitude by the end of April, about as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper, and maintain its brightness for about three weeks. It will make its first appearance in the Southern Hemisphere, but may be visible as a morning object to viewers in the Northern Hemisphere as early as late April. By early May, it will be an evening object, visible in the south to west sky, initially tracking close to the bright star Procyon and below the constellation Gemini. Over the course of its visit, it will slowly move higher in the sky until it fades from visibility.

Comet LINEAR may put on a good show for Southern Hemisphere observers, but it should still be readily visible low in the sky to Northern Hemisphere skywatchers. It will join Comet NEAT in the evening sky in early to mid-May, low in the southwest.

For maps showing the locations of NEAT and LINEAR, visit http://stars5.netfirms.com/comet.htm

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