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Hale Bopp Essay, Research Paper

As I am sure all of you know, we have recently been able to see a new but not permanent additon to the night sky. This addition is known as Hale-Bopp, a comet that is about 122 million miles (about 1.3 times the distance of the sun to the earth) from the earth and is approximately 25 miles wide. Hale-Bopp was discovered on July 23,1995 by two scientists named Alan Hale in New Mexico and Thomas Bopp in Arizona. This is the first discovery for both of them, although Alan Hale is one of the top visual comet observers in the world, having seen about 200 comet apparitions. That is one of the reasons they put his name first.

Alan Hale comments, “I love the irony — I’ve spent over 400 hours of my life looking for comets, and haven’t found anything, and now, suddenly, when I’m not looking for one, I get one dumped in my lap. I had obtained an observation of P/Clark earlier, and needed to wait an hour or so before P/d’Arrest got high enough to look at, and was just passing the time til then, and I decided to look at some deep-sky objects in Sagittarius. When I turned to M70, I saw a fuzzy object in the same field, and almost immediately suspected a comet, since I had been looking at M70 last month, and *knew* there wasn’t any other objects there.”

Thomas Bopp explains his story like this, “On the night of July 22, 1995 some friends and I headed out into the desert for a dark of the moon observing session. The site, which is west of Stanfield, AZ and a few mile south of Interstate 8 is about 90 miles southwest from my home.

My friend Jim Stevens had brought his 17-1/2″ Dobsonian. We started the evening observing some of the Messier objects such as the Veil and North American Nebulae in Cygnus, when Jim said ” Let’s look at some of the globulars in Sagittarius.” We started our tour with M22 and M28, observing at 50X and then at 180X. Around 11:00 local time, we had M-70 in the field when Jim went to the charts to determine the next object of investigation. I continued watching M-70 slowly drift across the field, when it reached a point 3/4 of the way across a slight glow appeared on the eastern edge. I repositioned the scope to center on the new object but was unable to resolve it. I called to Jim and asked him if he knew what it might be, after a visual inspection he stated he wasn’t familiar with it but would check the charts. After determining the general position of the object he was unable to find it on either Sky Atlas 2000.0 or Uranometria.

The moment Jim said “we might have something” excitement began to grow among our group and I breathed a silent prayer thanking God for his wondrous creation. My friend, Kevin Gill then took a position from his digital setting circles and estimated a magnitude.

At 11:15 I said that we needed to check the object for motion and should watch it for an hour. The group observed it change position against the star field over that period and at 12:25 I decided to drive home and report our finding.

Arriving at home initial attempts to send the telegram were unsuccessful due to an incomplete address I had. After searching my library I was able to located the correct address and confirmation was requested.

At 8:25 AM July 23, 1995 Daniel Green of the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory telephoned and said, “Congratulations Tom, I believe you discovered a new comet.” and that was one of the most exciting moments of my life.

The comet is visible in the evening. Look about 40 degrees west of North and about 20 degrees off the horizon at about 8:00 p.m. The comet will be the brightest object in the northwest sky.The comet is traveling at about 28 km per second and the orbit of this comet is about 4,200 years since the last appearance and because of gravitational tugs by the planets, especially Jupiter, the next appearance will be in about 2380 years or the year 4377. Hale-Bopp has been through our solar system before which surprisingly means it is not a new comet from the Oort Cloud. Its orbit is a very long, stretched out orbit and the comet is part of our solar system in orbit around our Sun. Sadly, this excitment will end in October when Hale-Bopp will disapear to the naked eye.

(Special thanks to Kevin Gill of the Black Mountain Observatory for Alan Hale’s and Thomas Bopp’s quotes.)


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