StarWatch: Moravian College Astronomy
StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley
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FEBRUARY  1997
023    FEBRUARY 2, 1997:   Hale-Bopp Near Altair in Morning
To see Hale-Bopp this week, be at your observing location no later than 5:30 a.m. You must have an unobstructed eastern horizon in order for a successful view. On the 4th, the waning crescent moon will be low in the southeast. The comet will be about 45 degrees, 4-5 fists lengths to the left of the moon, near the bright star Altair which will be at the same height as the moon, and nearly due east. If Altair is made into a clock, Hale-Bopp will be located at the 10:30 position about one fist width away. On other mornings this week, use Altair as your guide. H-B could be a dim naked eye target, or a bright object as seen through binoculars. A Hale-Bopp locator map can be procured at the Allentown School District Adminstation Center, 31 South Penn Street, Allentown, PA. Call 821-2600 to inquire if copies of the February 1997 StarWatch are still available.
 
024    FEBRUARY 9, 1997:   Hale-Bopp in Summer Triangle
You should be at your observing location no later than 5:45 a.m. for a good view of Hale-Bopp. The star, Altair, will be prominent about 20 degrees above the eastern horizon. Two other stars bear noting, Deneb to the left and higher than Altair, and bluish Vega, higher still and closer to Deneb. The triad of stars forms the "giant" Great Summer Triangle now rising in the east. Hale-Bopp is an easy naked eye target about one third of the distance from Altair to Deneb. H-B appears as a fuzzy-looking, elongated star. Through binoculars, Hale-Bopp sports a beautiful fan-shaped tail with streamers. Go to StarWatch on line to view a map of H-B's location. See below, or call 821-2600 to see if locator maps are still available.

February 10 (Monday):
Hale-Bopp was observed about 5:40 a.m. by StarWatch author Gary A. Becker. The comet was distinctly visible from his backyard in Coopersburg, PA, about three fist heights above the eastern horizon. Its brightness was fainter than any of the stars which compose the Great Summer Triangle, but about the same luminescence as the star, Gamma Cygni, located about half a fist width to the right of the star Deneb. Hale-Bopp should be visible from any location in the Lehigh Valley, even within the city limits of Allentown, if the sky is clear and horizons are low enough. Through binoculars, Hale-Bopp sported a beautiful, cream colored, fan-shaped tail with streamers, about two to three degrees in length, or equal to four to six times the diameter of the full moon. It was best seen with averted vision (side vision), that is, not looking directly at the comet, but observing the tail out of the corner of the eye.--GAB

February 11 (Tuesday):
Hale-Bopp was seen at 5:45 a.m. The brightness of the comet was estimated to be about +2.0, slightly better than Gamma Cygni which was also used as a comparison star yesterday. The tail seemed to be less structured, but easily discernible with binoculars. Estimates of H-B's brightness, seen on the Internet yesterday, put the comet's luminescence at +1.6. I believe, these are exaggerated figures.--GAB

February 13 (Thursday):
After a cloudy start yesterday, the comet this morning was now the fourth brightest object in comparison to the stars which compose the Great Summer Triangle. Its magnitude was estimated to be about +1.8, now beginning to rival Deneb the faintest luminary of the GST which shines at +1.3. Through binoculars Hale-Bopp's tail was about 2.5 to 3 degrees in length. To the unaided eye H-B still appears to look more like a misplaced star than a comet. Its brightness, however, is impressive, and it should be visible from the largest cities in the US.--GAB
 
025    FEBRUARY 16, 1997:   Hale-Bopp Moves to Center of Summer Triangle
Through Thursday, February 20th, it will still be possible to observe Hale-Bopp in a moonless sky. Be at your observing location with an good eastern horizon by 5:30 a.m. Unless the sky is hazy, H-B will be prominent in the east as a fuzzy, starlike object positioned almost exactly between the bright stars Altair and Deneb of the Great Summer Triangle. Binoculars will reveal a short 2-3 degree tail. Between Monday and Friday of last week, H-B increased in brightness by nearly 50 percent. After the 20th, moonlight will interfere and the comet should appear even more starlike.

February 16 (Sunday):
Adam Jones (Fogelsville) reported that he observed Hale-Bopp while climbing to the summit of Mt. Washington. this a.m. Under clear skies he witnessed the comet as it rose, and kept it in sight until dawn, when he reached the summit. A faint tail was visible with averted vision. Estimated magnitude was about as bright as Polaris. There wasn't much time to observe without goggles however, because winds were sustained at 80 mph and the temperature was about -15 degrees F. (wind chill was -78 deg. F.). His report was phoned in from the summit at 10 a.m. Visit MOUNTWASHINGTON.COM Adam's home page.--GAB

February 17 (Monday):
Under clear but windy conditions, it was evident that Hale-Bopp has continued to brighten since my observation of last Thursday, February 12. Visually, the comet still appears as a fuzzy star. Using binoculars the tail was wide, but short (about 3 degrees) with two radial striations. The tail had become more obvious. The estimated magnitude of H-B was put at +1.6 now rivaling Deneb which is at +1.3. Three exposures of the comet were made at 6:00 a.m. using a 28mm lens at F/2.8 (tripod mounted--10s, 15s, and 20s Ektar-1000). Ray Harris of Macungie noted that this morning was the first time he had been able to see the tail with the unaided eye.--GAB.

February 18/19 (Tuesday/Wednesday):
Sky conditions at 5:30 a.m. on both mornings in Coopersburg were cloudy . A beautiful photo in The Morning Call, A8, on Tuesday, February 18, distinctly showed Hale-Bopp's gas (blue) and dust (yellow) tails.--GAB

February 20 (Thursday)
Comet Hale-Bopp continues to increase in brightness. This morning it shown at magnitude +1.3, about the same brightness as Deneb, the faintest star of the Great Summer Triangle (19th brightest star in the night sky). Its tail was about 3 to 4 degrees in length through binoculars, with the ion and dust tails more readily visible. To the unaided eye, the tail was barely visible with averted vision. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking by phone to Alan Hale (one of the two discoverers of the comet) at his home in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. He had not seen his own comet since last Sunday, February 16th because of inclement weather in the Sacramento Peak Mountains where he lives. On Sunday, he estimated H-B to be about +1.2, brighter than Deneb. His superb observing location coupled with high altitude probably allowed more of the dust and gas of the comet to be seen than around here, thus adding to H-B's brilliance. I stuck to +1.6 for my Monday observation. But there was no question that we both agreed that the comet continues to steadily increase in brightness, day by day, and will become one of the great comets of the 20th century.--GAB

February 21/22 (Friday/Saturday)
The sky was overcast in Coopersburg on both mornings. The comet was not visible.--GAB
 
026    FEBRUARY 23, 1997:   Hale-Bopp Bright Despite Moonlight
Moonlight is unable to erase the brilliance of Comet Hale-Bopp which now is shining just a little brighter than the faintest star of the Great Summer Triangle, Deneb. The comet's next rival is Altair which is about 40% brighter. H-B's tail length through binoculars is now about 3-1/2 degrees, about half a field width. There were several discernible streamers on Sunday morning. The tail is still barely visible to the unaided eye. At 5 a.m., H-B is near the Great Summer Triangle, at the same altitude as Altair, but its position has shifted below and to the right of Deneb. New H-B locator maps for March and April can be picked up at the ASD Administration Center. Call 821-2600. Daily observations of H-B are being posted at the Internet site below.

February 23 (Sunday):
With the moon just 25 hours after its full phase and brightening the landscape, Hale-Bopp was an easy target shining about magnitude +1.1. It is now brighter than Deneb, but not as bright as Altair, which is at magnitude +0.77. If the moon were not in the picture, Hale-Bopp would have appeared still more luminous. H-B's tail in moonlight was about 4 degrees with several discernible streamers. If this comet does not excite you, then you're probably dead. We are still six weeks away from H-B's greatest brightness which will occur during the first or second week in April--GAB.

February 24 (Monday):
Overall, through binoculars, Hale-Bopp showed little change from yesterday. It is definitely a little brighter than Deneb, so my magnitude estimate of +1.1 still holds. I was able to get a good determination of its tail length which was close to 3.5 degrees. My first telescopic observation at 18 power showed H-B's coma to be extremely stellar. Even though I expected a condensed coma, I was surprised at its compactness. One thing is for sure, with the encroaching light of dawn, be at your observing sight by 5:15 a.m.--GAB.

February 25 (Tuesday):
Hale-Bopp appeared just a little brighter this morning, intermediate between Deneb and Altair. My estimate +1.0. In moonlight, not as painfully bright as during the past several days, the tail seemed longer too. Through binoculars, I judged its length between 4 and 5 degrees--visually one degree. Pat DeFrancisco, my contact person at the Morning Call, easily observed Hale-Bopp from center city Bethlehem last Thursday, February 20. He noted the comet was naked eye, and that its dust tail could easily be seen through binoculars. Excuses will no longer be accepted for a lack of H-B sightings from "you city folks."--GAB

February 26 (Wednesday:)
This morning under very hazy sky conditions, I noticed nine celestial objects: a haloed moon, the star Arcturus (4th brightest in the nighttime sky), the three handle stars of the Big Dipper, the three stars of the Great Summer Triangle (Vega, Altair, and Deneb), and Comet Hale-Bopp, below and to the right of Deneb. Through binoculars H-B's tail could be seen.--GAB

February 27/28--March 1(Thursday/Friday/Saturday):
At 5:00 a.m. on all three mornings sky conditions were cloudy in Coopersburg, PA. The comet was not seen.--GAB
 
The map below is courtesy of the Comet Observation Home Page.

Comet Hale-Bopp finder chart

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