|Enigma Issue 12: Hale Bopp: What's actually happening?|
|Messenger of the New Millennium or chunk of rock? by Paul Vigay | Winter 1996/97|
Never before has a comet inspired the imagination of so many people as Hale Bopp has in the last couple of years. Some people claim that it is not really a comet after all, but a huge extraterrestrial mother ship, whilst others claim that it is the return of the lost planet Nibiru. All the time, rational scientists are getting exasperated with all the fantastic claims over what they report is just a routine comet. However, like most things that are exaggerated, I believe there is no smoke without fire, so I have carried out my own detailed research on Hale Bopp to see what will really happen during the next few months, as it passes through the inner Solar system (see fig.1).
Fig.1 Comet Hale Bopp's route through the Solar System
Hale Bopp has a very long period (the time it takes to complete one orbit) - in the order of 3200 years and has passed through our Solar System in the past. However, it seems to have been affected by it's flight through our Solar System - some would even argue that it has made course corrections. When it entered the Solar System it's orbital period was 4200 years. However, astronomers predict that when it leaves the Solar System it's period will be just 2379 years - quite a substantial change by any calculation.
When was it last here?
This yields an average orbit period of 3289½ years. If this figure is accurate it means that Hale Bopp was last passing through our Solar System in roughly 1295 BC - about the time of the Israelites exodus from Egypt. Of course, we can't really average out the orbit in this fashion because it may be slowed down or accelerated on it's path by the gravitational effect of other space objects. It has none-the-less given conspiracy theorists and scientists alike something to think about.
Because the orbits of most comets are calculated by using mathematical formulae, they are subject to minor alterations as the movement of the comet is physically viewed, and plotted, through actual astronomical observation.
Hale and Bopp
The comet was discovered by Alan Hale of New Mexico and Thomas Bopp of Arizona on July 23rd 1995 and officially named Hale Bopp (C/1995 O1). Although Alan Hale is one of the world's foremost comet observers, having seen about 200 comets, this is the first actual discovery for both men.
No threat to the Earth
Although various rumours have been circulating regarding the comet's path, it will not collide with the Earth, or even come close to it (unless it makes a dramatic course change). The comet makes it's closest pass of the Earth on March 23rd 1997, when it will be approximately 120 million miles from Earth - further than the 93 million miles from the Earth to the Sun. The comet does actually come closer to the Sun than the Earth's orbit although it will not pose a threat, for as this occurs the Earth is moving away from the path of the comet. Hale Bopp will reach it's closest point to the Sun on April 1st 1997, when it will be about 85 million miles from the Sun. It is also not the first comet to come this close to the Sun. Comet Ikeya-Seki literally skimmed the surface of the Sun in 1965 and others have even crashed into the Sun.
The Orbit of Hale Bopp
As the comet's orbit is inclined virtually 90 degrees from the ecliptic (which is the plane of our Solar System in which the planets orbit), it will appear to come up from the south, go over the top of the Sun and then disappear down to the north. This means that the best view of the comet will be from the Southern Hemisphere. However, as the comet gets brighter it will become easily visible from Northern latitudes.
How big is it really?
Another matter which is causing a hot debate concerns the actual size of Hale Bopp. As comets consist of a nucleus surrounded by a dust and gas cloud which form the visible 'tail', we can't see the actual nucleus. Some comets range from a few miles in diameter to over 100 miles in diameter. Recent observations of the amount of material generated by Hale Bopp approximate it's nucleus diameter as roughly 25 miles across - an average size comet. For comparison, Halley's comet (which we did manage to view the nucleus via spacecraft observations) was a sort of potato shape around 5 miles by 10 miles wide.
Comet Hale Bopp will get much brighter as it travels towards the Sun during the spring of 1997. The maximum brightness Hale Bopp will obtain as it passes the Sun is currently predicted at magnitude -1, which is slightly fainter than Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. This should make it easily visible to the naked eye. At present (Dec 96/Jan 97) Hale Bopp is within 38 degrees of the Sun, which will make it difficult to view with the naked eye. This is also the reason NASA give for not pointing the Hubble Space Telescope at Hale Bopp - to avoid danger from sunlight. However, from February 1997 through March 1997, it should reach 0 magnitude and be brighter and be relatively easy to find in the sky. From late March to April 1997 it will be at it's best and will be in the northwest after sunset. The best dates for observing should be between March 26th and April 12th. Depending upon the latitude you are observing from, the elevation in the sky should be between the horizon and approx. 30 degrees, towards the Northwest.
It will start fading from view towards the end of April as the Moon and Sun start interfering. However experienced viewers should still be able to see it until October-December 1997, when it is lost from naked eye visibility. It may also be visible during the total solar eclipse that runs through Mongolia and eastern Siberia on March 9th 1997.
Most of the information I've managed to glean for this article has come from a variety of sources, including computer CD Roms, The Internet and Astronomy magazines. However, there does seem to have been virtually a media blackout from the scientific community. Even the Hubble Space Telescope seems to be preoccupied taking photographs of other things (although NASA have stated that it is currently too close to the Sun to point Hubble at). The last available photo from the HST was dated October 1995 although a few photos have become available since. In fact, lots more information was available on Hale Bopp during the early months. From about July 1996, the information available has become very sketchy. It's almost as if someone 'pulled the plug'.
Major Publicity, Not!
As most astronomical institutions and universities, and even NASA, are trying to get every penny of funding, and promote their facilities it seems a reasonable assumption that someone would set up a weekly, or even monthly, Hale Bopp observation column in a newspaper or magazine - yet no one seems to be interested. Most major sites on the Internet are still showing photographs from July 1996 - although just recently (Feb 1997) the official Hale Bopp site, run by Russell Sipe has put some more images up. If Hale Bopp is a 100 million miles closer, why aren't there any better, higher resolution, images available?
The Coverup Begins?
One, speculative, reason for this could be that NASA have viewed something they don't want the public to know about until they have analysed it themselves. One such 'object' was reported during mid November by amateur astronomer Chuck Shramek from Houston, USA. He reported viewing a giant object near Hale Bopp, apparently the size of Saturn! (fig.2) Understandably, this announcement caused a huge commotion on the Internet when it was first announced, with many astronomers merely dismissing the object as a distant star which happened to be in the same field of view as Hale Bopp when viewed through Chuck's telescope.
Fig.2 Chuck Shramek's original photo, showing the 'companion' object.
How Open-Minded can you get?
Many open-minded UFO believers started to claim that this huge object was in fact an enormous 'mother ship' accompanying Hale Bopp, or that Hale Bopp wasn't a comet after all but the return of the tenth planet Nibiru, as predicted by ancient texts.
The Official Line
Russell Sipe, publisher of Hale Bopp magazine, was the first to state that the object was perfectly innocuous and was not an alien spacecraft. According to Sipe, Chuck's photograph showed Hale Bopp passing close to a bright star which caused 'diffraction spikes' to appear on photographs taken with a telescope using a secondary mirror system. The secondary mirror system is suspended in the upper tube assembly of the telescope on one or more metal vanes. This arrangement is commonly referred to as a spider. Consulting a computer star mapping program (Sky 4.0), Russell even identified the 'object' as the 8th magnitude star SAO 41894 which has sprouted the typical diffraction pattern inherent to astrophotography when conditions are right.
Chuck defends himself
However, Chuck Shramek was quick to defend his photo by stating that his telescope was a Meade LX-200 and has no such structure holding a secondary mirror. He also argued that he had identified all the stars in his image by their GSC numbers.
Alan Hale joins the discussion
All the arguing on the Internet was enough to gain the comments of Alan Hale, the co-discoverer of the comet, who commented "I've been following on the comet on a pretty regular basis, and I have not noticed anything unusual about or around it". He was also ready to dismiss Chuck Shramek's evidence on the basis of viewing his home page by adding, "a check of Chuck Shramek's home page reveals writings full of governmental conspiracies and cover-ups, charges of lies by scientists, and numerous references to the works by fringe writers such as Richard Hoagland and Zecharia Sitchin."
Alan Hale then went on to describe Chuck's photo by saying, "Shramek does not give a scale or orientation to the image, but I was finally able to determine that the image's long axis is oriented roughly northwest to southeast. For comparison, I downloaded an image from the Digital Sky Survey corresponding to the comet's ephemeris position for the time in question. This image's long axis is oriented north-south, with the comet's position in the exact center. If you rotate this image counter-clockwise about 45 degrees, and compare this to Shramek's image (with it oriented with the long axis top-down and the "object" on top), you will see that the bright two stars above the comet in Shramek's image will match the two brighter stars above center in the DSS image. Shramek's "mysterious object" is nothing more than the bright 9th-magnitude star appearing in the DSS image. The "Saturn-like rings" are nothing more than a diffraction effect (see also the spikes from the same star in the DSS image), a phenomenon which has been known and understood for centuries.
There are many "fringe" people who are trying to attach apocalyptic significance to Comet Hale Bopp, and incidents like this one by Shramek are sure to increase as we get closer to the comet's perihelion. I ask readers to treat all these irresponsible reports with the disdain they deserve, and instead enjoy the beauty of the comet for its own sake."
A 'background' star?
Hale was thus verifying the earlier statement by Russell Sipe that the anomalous 'companion object' was no more than the star SAO41894. This now seems to be the official NASA comment on the 'companion' object.
The plot thickens....
After investigating all these claims and counter-claims I decided to take a look for myself, using Red Shift 2, a popular astronomy encyclopedia/database on computer CD Rom. Setting the date and location to 14th November 1996 and Houston (Chuck's location) I called up a view of the sky at the time the image was taken. Lo and behold SAO 41894 was visible at exactly the place in the image. Conclusive proof of a genuine mistake? Some argue that this was merely a convenient way of debunking the whole affair. I have been unable to find any subsequent images showing the 'companion object' still accompanying Hale Bopp at present, therefore I assume that this was in fact an error in observation. However, to add further to the confusion, fellow astronomer Robert Collins claims to have seen what appeared to be the 'companion' object again on 11th December 1997 - which would rule out the same 8.5mag star, which by now would be in a different part of the sky. To quote Collins;
"Well, saw what appeared to be the object tonight [11th Dec] from 6 to 6:30 PM MST: It stuck close to the back outer Coma of Hale Bopp for the 30 mins I watched it. It on occasion twinkled and disappeared only to reappear in the same position relative to the comet. Comet got too close to the horizon so I had to quit. Now, if it was easy for me anybody should be able to observe this Comet until it fades from sight in the latter part of December.
Star like object is now just below the Comet: ~ 6PM MST: Had same relative brightness as last night's Dec 11th sighting except now it is in front. No other "stars" in vicinity that could account for brightness of this "object."
Note: Both on Dec 11th and 12th 1996 the closest star to Hale Bopp was a 6th magnitude star according to the Sky & Telescope 1996 star map for the Comet: Both the Comet & Object had an estimated magnitude of ~4 to 4.5: And, the 6th mag star was not close to where I saw the "Star Like Object." Also, this can't be pointed at like Chuck Shramek's report because there was no CCD array to supposedly blow a 9th, 6th etc magnitude star into a 4th or 4.5 magnitude object."
The thing that makes researching Hale Bopp so interesting is that there are so many controversies related to it. This is probably why it has become such a hotly debated topic. Not content with finding 'companion' objects or 'course corrections', people have also discovered strange emissions coming from it. On Friday, November 29, 1996, Sky and Telescope News in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA revealed that the Comet Hale-Bopp was emitting "radio noise." This report aired later that day on the Art Bell Radio Show. According to S&T; News, "in mid-November, radio observatories showed that each second the comet's nucleus was pumping out 30 tons of water into space and another 6 (tons) of carbon monoxide. That helps explain why the comet is already magnitude 4.5."
On November 30th 1996, Dr.Courtney Brown of the Farsight Institute released a colour photograph of comet Hale Bopp onto the Internet. He claimed the photo was taken on April 20th at the National Astronomical Observatory in Japan by H.Fukushima and N.Yamamoto using a 50cm reflector telescope mounted with a CCD camera. This photo also showed an anomalous, egg-shaped object near to the comet - again fuelling the rumours of a companion object. Amidst the controversy, the Japanese Observatory have removed the image from their internet site, further fuelling conspiracy rumours.
Brown and Streiber appear on Art Bell
The previous night, Brown had teamed up with author and alien abductee Whitley Strieber for a joint interview on the Art Bell "Coast to Coast" radio show, to make an announcement that a "top astronomer" associated with a "top 10 university" had definite proof that a huge object, thought to be a 'ship' of extraterrestrial origin, was trailing Hale Bopp. This seemed to correlate with the earlier claims from Chuck Shramek in Houston.
More controversy over the 'companion' object
In fact, it was the original claim by Chuck which had fuelled Brown's interest in the comet, prompting him to assign three remote viewers from his Farsight Institute to examine Hale Bopp. Speaking on Art Bell's show, he was insistent that a second, mystery, object does exist. Not only was he confirming the existence of the object through remote viewing, but was also claiming that an internationally known astronomer from a top university had positively confirmed that the second object appeared to be a 'ship' under intelligent control. However, he refused to name the astronomer on the show, instead stating that the man was currently making his mind up what to do. Whitley Streiber then went on to assert his conviction that the evidence indicated the existence of a huge, intelligently controlled object accompanying Hale Bopp.
Brown also stated that 'intelligent' radio signals were being emitted from the comet and it should soon be possible to announce the exact frequency the signals are being transmitted on. Brown believed the un-named astronomer would call a press conference within the next week or two. However, as yet, I have found no report of the frequency, or evidence that the press conference took place. Indeed, it now looks as if the photo Brown presented to the Art Bell show has it's own conspiracy attached (see separate statement by Courtney Brown). Enigma readers can be sure of hearing the latest information as it gets to me.
Whilst researching this article I scoured literally hundreds of Hale Bopp orientated sites on the Internet, along with Astronomy magazines and computer CD Roms and a couple of images did catch my attention. One photo (fig.3) which I obtained from the official Hubble Space Telescope internet site did indeed appear to show a similar object to Chuck Shramek's. In fact I re-visited the site recently (13th Feb 1997) and found, to my surprise, that the image was no longer available. The plot thickens.
Fig.3 A Hubble Space Telescope photo showing what could be the 'companion' object.
Now it's up to you....
Whatever, the controversies, coverups, arguments and real facts about Hale Bopp, there is one thing that is certain; If there is anything anomalous about it, the whole world will be able to view it for themselves as Hale Bopp passes closest to the Earth during March. I'm sure I won't be alone as I look to the skies during the next few, exciting months. You can also read any further developments of this saga, in future issues, as new evidence is brought forward.
After the subsequent controversy, Courtney Brown released an official statement onto the Internet.