Images of Hale-Bopp
These images were taken at Sommers-Bausch Observatory by students, staff, or guest observers.
- How we know what a comet is made of: a spectrum of Comet Hale-Bopp by Steve Hill et. al. using the 24-inch telescope.
- March 29th exposure of Hale-Bopp over the Boulder Flatirons by Niescja Turner and Carter Emmart - 50 mm f/1.8 exposure for 30 seconds on Fuji 800 film.
March 28th evening exposures on Fuji-400 film: 200 mm focal length lens (5 minutes, 45K JPEG); 50 mm (10 minutes, 53K JPEG); and 28 mm wide-angle with labels (10 minutes, 159K JPEG). Exposures by Keith Gleason.
A 2.5 minute telephoto exposure by Keith Gleason on the morning of March 7th.
Photographs from the morning of February 18th, 1997:
Three representations of the same image taken November 27th, 1996 (87K GIF).
Two blink-comparator images of Comet Hale-Bopp taken on October 10th and 11th (26K GifBuilder).
A color image by Dennis Ward on September 7th, 1996 (63K GIF).
Early SBO images of Hale-Bopp illustrating how comets and asteroids are discovered by their movement across the sky.
When and Where to Look
By mid-March, Hale-Bopp will be visible both in the morning and evening skies, about an hour to an hour-and-a-half before sunrise, or after sunset.
For morning observers, here's a map showing the direction to look for the comet just before dawn from January through March.
And for those of you who prefer evening stargazing, here's where to look for Hale-Bopp in the western evening sky after sunset (March through May).
Both charts show azimuth (compass headings) in degrees along the horizon, plus the comet's altitude (angle above the horizon) measured in degrees at the indicated time. Use your fist held at arm's length as a yardstick for measuring angle: the width of your fist will be about 10 degrees across.
The charts above show you where to look above the horizon, but they don't show you how the comet appears against the background stars. The combined effects of the Earth's and the comet's orbits make Hale-Bopp appear to wander around against the backdrop of stars - even making it appear to halt and change direction in 1996.
So - here are sky maps showing where Hale-Bopp can be found among the constellations during 1997:
- January - entering the Summer Triangle
- February - passing by Cygnus the Swan
- March - between Pegasus and Cephus
- April - Andromeda to Taurus
- May - into the arms of Orion
Finally, a time-line of the favorable observing windows for viewing Hale-Bopp.
How The Comet Should Appear
We've put together (using Voyager II and Photoshop software) some "snapshots" of how the comet, the horizon, and the sky itself should appear for selected dates for the coming months. The times are optimum viewing times - with the comet at its highest above the horizon just before twilight interferes.
Each view spans a field that is 75 degrees wide and 45 degrees up from the horizon, and approximates the entire view that you can see at one time with your naked eye.
Of course, the true sky won't have constellation stick figures or star names floating in space!
How to Look
First of all, do not expect to be able to come to Sommers-Bausch Observatory on open house nights and expect to take a peek at the comet through the big telescopes. We wish we could show it to you, but we can't - the comet will be too far northward along the horizon line for either of our observing deck scopes to acquire it (the north wall gets in the way). (However, we are able to show you the comet in the evening using binoculars and a small portable telescope set up at a location that clears the roof.)
But why come to a light-polluted site in the middle of Boulder, when a similar drive would take you into much darker skies where the view will be all the more dramatic? A bright comet such as Hale-Bopp is pretty much a naked-eye, do-it-yourself kind of thing!
Some observing tips:
- If at all possible, get away from city lights, to a location where you have a clear view of the sky. If you can't see the Milky Way from your location, you'll still be able to see Hale-Bopp - but not nearly as well as from a darker site!
- Allow 5 to 10 minutes for your eyes to become dark adapted. No one can see much of anything in the dark immediately after leaving a bright area. Before you eyes can get dark adapted, the comet will simply look like a fuzzy bright star; but after awhile, you'll start to see more and more of the tail.
- To see the faintest detail, let your eyes wander around the vicinity of the comet. You actually can see dim features, such as its long tail, better by looking a little off to the side, rather than straight at it. (This 'peripheral vision' trick has been used by astronomers for hundreds of years.)
- Binoculars are always useful, and frequently preferable, to see the comet and its tail - so be sure to take them along. Although the tail is now easily seen with the naked eye, it gets fainter at greater distances from the head of the comet - binoculars will help you see its full extent.
- Telescopes will give you a close-up view of the coma, or head of the comet, but won't help much in viewing the tail, since it extends well beyond the field-of-view of the telescope. Use the lowest-power eyepiece that you have, to give you the largest field-of-view.
- Above all, don't be in a hurry. Take your time and enjoy. The longer you look, the more detail you'll see, and remember for posterity.
Where Is It Really?
If we could step off of the Earth and stand motionless in space, we could see the true path of the comet (as well as the Earth and other planets) around the Sun in three-dimensional space.
The space-view was derived from computer a simulation of the comet's orbit, which is in turn described by its "orbital elements". Here is a description of Hale-Bopp's orbital elements - what they are, what they geometrically mean.
Once you've loaded the orbital elements into your computer, you can determine how far away the comet is from the Earth, its orientation in space, and exactly where it is in relationship to the Sun.
For example, you'll find that the comet passed closest to the Earth on March 22nd at a distance of 122 million miles (no close encounter here!), and passed closest to the Sun (perihelion) on March 31st at a distance of 85 million miles. During the ten days from April 1st to April 10th, Hale-Bopp only moves away from the Sun by 1 million miles to 86 million, but increases its separation from the Earth from 126 million to 136 million miles. During this period, the comet appears to move 3 degrees closer to the Sun as seen from Earth, to a 39-degree separation on April 10th, and that we view the comet from an oblique angle of about 45 degrees (90 degrees would be a side, or profile, view).
For more details, here is a table with explanations of distances and angles to provide you with the information.
If you want daily details such as equatorial coordinates (right ascension and declination), Steve Albers has provided this Hale-Bopp ephemeris and accompanying explanatory guide, computed for Boulder-area observers.
Teacher's Workshop Information
On March 8th, 1997, Mary Urquhart, Niescja Turner, and Henry Throop hosted a workshop at Sommers-Bausch Observatory to provide information and activities for grade-school through middle-school teachers for teaching about Comet Hale-Bopp to their students. Here's an on-line summary of the material presented in the Hale-Bopp Teacher's Workshop.
There are comets out there all the time. Here are some recent ones.
- Note from Tom Johnston, March 4th:
"You MUST go to the JPL comet page and see who we edged out for the first observation of 1997 D1 Mueller!" Name sound familiar? Here's Tom's pix.
A comparison of Hale-Bopp and Comet Hyakutake - how are they the same? How do they differ?
The 1995 apparition of Comet DeVico
What happens when a comet hits a planet
Links to Other Hale-Bopp Sites
There are plenty of other places out there where you can find out more information about Hale-Bopp and other comets. We include here only a few of our favorites, which will in turn will provide you with even more links, etc., etc., etc.
A great source is the Comet Hale-Bopp Homepage, written for non-astronomers and including contributions from the discoverers. There's also rational and intelligent information regarding the so-called "SLO (Saturn-Like Object)" occupied by LGM supposedly trailing the comet. Get your sanity here, folks!
- Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) maintains the Ulysses Comet Watch Amateur Network. It's like a mini Halley Watch for any comets that might come along, gathering observations from amateurs
all over the planet.
For general background comet information, frequently asked questions, and a glossary of terms, we like the IAU Circulars page about Hale-Bopp.
Other extremely popular sites are supported by the Jet Propusion Lab: the Comet Observation Homepage, and the JPL Hale-Bopp Homepage.
Gary Kronk maintains an interesting and informative chronology notebook of Hale-Bopp events.
Magazines are a great source of background information. Here are the contributions of essays on Hale-Bopp and other comets from the two leading amateur astronomy magazines: Sky & Telescope and Astronomy .
To find out what some of the "big boys" are up to, see what NOAO (National Optical Astronomical Observatories), the University of Hawaii, and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) have been doing with Comet Hale-Bopp.
Finally, want to contribute your own observations to the net? Dennis Ward, a frequent user of SBO, maintains a homepage where you can add your own observing log observations.
SBO Home Page