StarWatch: Moravian College Astronomy
Sky and Telescope.
MARCH 2, 1997: H-B Brightens as Moon Fades
- The moon begins the week just after last quarter, rising about 2 a.m. By dawn
itís in the south, southeast. As the week progresses, its waning crescent moves
eastward and is at the same altitude as Hale-Bopp by Tuesday, but well to the right
of the comet. By Thursday, the moon will be difficult to spot near the brightening
horizon at 5:30 a.m. Hale-Bopp will also appear to grow brighter as the moonlight
fades. It will form a nearly right triangle below the star Deneb and to the left
of Altair. Last week H-B was brighter than Deneb, but fainter than Altair. This
could easily change during the week as H-B continues to brighten. Follow the progress
of Hale-Bopp at the web site noted below. The map below is courtesy of
March 2/3/4/5 (Sunday/Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday):
Weather conditions have been dismal for the last eight days. The comet was not spotted
on any of these mornings due to overcast conditions across the Lehigh Valley.
Saturday, March 8 (early morning):
ASD Planetarium director Gary Becker sighted Hale-Bopp from the parking lot of the
Big Bend Motor Inn at 5:30 a.m. It was magnificent, with a 10 degree ion tail and a 7 degree
dust tail. The ion tail extended out to M39 in the constellation Cygnus. The comet's
brightness easily surpassed Altair and seemed to be a close match with Vega and
Arcturus. The comet was probably a little bit on the fainter side of these two stars,
but that was hard to determine conclusively...
Sunday, March 8 (evening):
Gary Becker reports: "The plan was to spend the night at Sotel Mesa in Big Bend
National Park to photograph Hale-Bopp. The evening started clear with some distant clouds
to the southwest, but they advanced... so that by 2:30am generally cloudy conditions
prevailed. Several storms to the north added some additional lights in the sky (i.e.
lightning!), but when it began to rain, THAT put an end to all hopes of imaging the
comet. We got back to camp at 4:00 a.m. and observed the comet about 35 minutes
before sunrise (which was 6:30 a.m.). A tail was easily noted on H-B, and its brightness
was still comparable to Vega."
MARCH 9, 1997: Mars and Hale-Bopp
That brilliant object that you may have noticed in the east, about 9 p.m., is the
planet Mars. Its solitary appearance is enhanced by its location in a rather bland
region of the spring sky. Look at Marsí color closely. Yes, that is what astronomers
call red! Again as far above the horizon as Mars will be the bright star Regulus of
Leo, the Lion. Itís no match for the God of War, shining at nearly 20 times its
brightness. Comet Hale-Bopp in the morning sky is splendid. H-Bís position has now
moved below and to the left of the star Deneb. The comet will be found about one
third of the way up in the sky by dawn. Its tail should be short but distinct. Be at
your observing location no later than 5:15 a.m. Hale-Bopp will continue to increase
in brilliance for at least another month. Follow its daily progress at the web site
Tuesday, March 11 (early morning):
Gary Becker reports the latest on H-B from New Mexico:
"The ion tail of Comet Hale-Bopp was observed about 45 minutes before the
comet rose... by about 2:30 a.m. The comet rose at about 3:10 a.m. and was
easily visible as a comet-like body right on horizon! The straight ion tail
was estimated to be 11 degrees in length, while the obviously curved, fan-shaped
dust tail extended upward away from the comet approximately 7 degrees.
Again, the comet was observed well into dawn, up to about 30 minutes
before sunrise, still posessing an easily discernible tail." The photo below
is of Comet Hale-Bopp taken by Gary Becker at 4:45 a.m., March 11, from
Star Hill Inn in Sapello, NM. Fifteen minutes later the second image was shot
using an ultra wide-angle lens showing how the comet as it appeared to the
Wednesday, March 12 (evening):
Gary Becker reports from El Malpais National Monument, NM:
"The first evening that we saw H-B, the moon was about 4 days old... a brilliant crescent in
the southwest. The comet was easily spotted about 45 minutes after sunset in the northwest.
Despite moonlight and the comet's low altitude, a dust tail of about 5 degrees was still
easily visible with binoculars, stretching out parallel to the horizon.
Thursday, March 13 (evening):
Becker reports: "Hale-Bopp was spotted from the El Malpais lava fields on our way back
to Grants, NM... easily seen right through the van windows!"
Sunday, March 15 (early morning):
Up in Chaco Canyon in northwestern NM, members of the Dieruff Academy met up with park
archaeoastronomer and seasonal ranger Great Bear and was treated to exceptionally dark skies.
This was by far the best observation of H-B made to date. Gary A. Becker reports:
"The comet has now become brighter than any other star in the sky at the time, with an
estimated magnitude of -0.5 to -1.0. H-B's ion tail measured 13 degrees with a dust tail
about 8 degrees long. The tail remained visible 30 minutes prior to sunrise, and
telescopically it persisted until 19 minutes before sunrise! Visually, H-B's coma became
indistinct about 24 minutes before sunrise, and only 7 minutes before sunrise through a
telescope! Morning temperatures were in the mid 20s.
MARCH 16, 1997: Partial Lunar Eclipse and Hale-Bopp
The moon will be in a waxing gibbous phase by Sunday evening. Note how the
terminator, the dividing line between day and night, bulges outward on both "sides".
Thatís what gibbous means. The moon becomes more bulbous and brighter as the week
progresses. When it is full on Sunday the 23rd, the moon will be eclipsed by Earth's
shadow. The show starts just before 10 p.m. and continues until nearly 1:30 a.m.
Itís a partial lunar eclipse with about 90 percent of the moon immersed in the earthís
shadow by 11:40 p.m. Binoculars or a small telescope will make your viewing enjoyment
even greater. Donít forget about Hale-Bopp glowing brightly, low in the northeast
about 4:45 a.m. After full moon switch your observing direction towards the northwest
about 7:45 p.m. For the next several weeks the comet should be at its peak brightness.
Now it will be visible in the evening sky right after darkness. Daily H-B observations
will be posted at the web address given below. The map below is courtesy of
Sky and Telescope.
Sunday, March 16 (early morning):
Gary Becker photographed the comet in Chaco Canyon, NM between 4 and 5 am under incredibly
clear skies and subfreezing temps. Observations were similar to the morning before.
Monday, March 17 (evening):
In downtown Williams, AZ... by the laundromat and next to the train station... with two
sodium vapor lights in direct line of sight, the comet with tail was easily spotted.
SKY Online's Comet Page
www.halebopp.com--Alan Hale's and Tom Bopp's Home Page
Comets: Views of the Solar System
MARCH 23, 1997: Partial Lunar Eclipse Tonight
Tonight the moon is full and it is partially eclipsed by the earth's shadow. A lunar
eclipse occurs when the sun, moon, and earth are aligned so precisely that the earth's shadow
can fall onto the moon. The moon begins entering the umbra (shadow) at 9:58 p.m., but you
should notice the lower left portion of the moon appearing dusky by 9:30. By this time the
moon will be deep within the penumbra, a location where if you were on the moon, the earth
would be nearly eclipsed by the sun. The moon moves 90 percent into the umbra by 11:39 p.m.
and then begins to reemerge. Not until 1:22 a.m. on the 24th will the moon be fully exited
from the earth's shadow. Then there will be another half hour of duskiness centered on the
4:30 position of the lunar disk before it is visually all over.
Monday, March 23 (evening):
Observations of the partial lunar eclipse were made at White Sands National Monument near
Alamogordo, New Mexico with North Elementary students and White Sands park astronomy enthusiast,
John Mangimeli. With Hale-Bopp easily visible in the Northwest, and the full moon dazzling us
in the east, we were escorted about five miles into the park to view the eclipse on a large
gypsum sand dune. By 7:30 p.m., MST, it was easily evident that the moon was pressing into the
penumbra, and 30 minutes later the event was underway. As the eclipse proceeded and the
brightly reflective landscape of the dunes became subdued, stars and constellations became more
readily visible and the comet's tail nearly doubled in length. At greatest immersion, about
9:40 p.m., the shadowed portion of the moon appeared reddish brown through telescopes. The
comet unfortunately was lost in haze and low clouds that clung several degrees above the
MARCH 24, 1997: Hale-Bopp Switches to Evenings
Comet Hale-Bopp reigns supreme for the next three weeks, and because of its changing
position, the comet's prime time views are now occurring in the evening. At 7:30 p.m. the
comet will be about two fist widths above the northwestern horizon. Time, good northwestern
horizons, and clear skies are critical at this point. Earth's rotation now carries the comet
closer to the horizon, so you must be at your location by 7:30 p.m. Light pollution, trees,
and buildings may block H-B's location because of its low position. It may be worth
investigating an observing site during daylight to ensure it fits all of the requirements.
If you missed Hyakutake last year or saw it as a fuzzy blob near the North Star,
REJOICE, because the urban comet has arrive. H-B will look distinctly like a comet with a
small tail pointing away from the sun. Daily observations of H-B are posted at the net sight
Tuesday, March 25 (evening):
Returning from the Dieruff Academy Southwesten Field Experience, Hale-Bopp was easily
observed enroute between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Visually the tail appeared about 5 degrees
in length. The brightest portions of H-B remained visible as we passed through downtown
Wednesday, March 26 (evening):
Similar H-B observations were made west of Wheeling, West Virginia during twilight and
early evening. More light pollution and a sky that was not quite as clear as the day before
made the tail appear slightly shorter.
Thursday, March 27 (evening):
Hale-Bopp was photographed from Pulpit Rock Astronomical Park, west of Lehnhartsville, PA.
The comet became easily visible about 40 minutes after sunset and was in continual observation
until about 10 p.m. when it intersected the tree-lined horizon. Visually the dust tail was
about 5 degrees long, while a faint ion tail about 7 degrees was seen with averted vision.
Photographically, the curved dust tail appeared to extend about 7 degrees away from the bright
head, while the straight, blue, ion tail was about twice as long. Telescopically, numerous
arcuate hoods could be seen within the comatic structure of the head as reported by Ray
Harris of Macungie, who was observing and photographing the comet at the same time. Sky
conditions were clear.
Saturday, March 29 (evening):
Hale-Bopp was easily spotted from Coopersburg, well before dark in the northwest above
a cloudy horizon. Through binoculars the comet's tail appeared to be about 4 degrees at
8:45 p.m. when it was much nearer to the horizon. Sky conditions were hazy clear at the
MARCH 30, 1997: Hale-Bopp Spectacular Continues
If the weather is cooperative, you will now be viewing Hale-Bopp for the next two
weeks without any major lunar interference. The moon will be a waxing crescent in the
southwest by the end of this period. If you donít catch the comet now, you will have
missed one of the great astronomical events of the 20th century. The comet can be
located in the northwest about 45 minutes after sunset. H-B with its small tail
will be totally obvious. Just look! To H-Bís left and above will be the bright
star Aldebaran (West) and farther left, the constellation of Orion (WSW) with its
three belt stars pointing in the general direction of H-B. If you want to observe
Hale-Bopp through telescopes, the Lehigh Valley Amateur Astronomical Society will be
hosting a weeklong star party from Monday through Friday, April 7-12 from 7:00 p.m.
to 10:00 p.m. For more details about the comet and directions to the LVAAS, link
to the ASD Planetariumís web site below or call 610-797-3476. Clear skies! The map below
is courtesy of Sky and Telescope.
Directions to the LVAAS
Tuesday, April 1 (evening):
A windy but crystal clear evening greeted the Lehigh Valley making the comet appear
bright against a blacker than usual sky. I estimated H-B's magnitude to be about -1.
It was much brighter than the star Capella which shines at magnitude +0.05 and which is
relatvely close to the comet. From Coopersburg, looking through binoculars, the curved dust
tail stretched back about 8 degrees. It was about that long to the unaided eye also.
This was the first time from Coopersburg that I was able to discern the stright ion tail
through binoculars. I wouldn't want to guarantee that I saw it naked eye, however. All in
all, except for the chilly air conditions, this evening was the best suburban viewing
that I have had to date.
Wednesday, April 2 (evening):
I almost forgot to go out and view the comet this evening. H-B was spotted about 5
degrees above the horizon at tree level at 9:30 p.m. The comet showed a distinct, short
tail even at this low altitude.
Friday, April 4 (evening):
Comet Hale-Bopp was easily spotted right outside the ASD Planetarium at Dieruff High
School after an evening program given to a YMCA Indian Guide group. The children, first
through third graders, found the comet amid trees and sodium vapor lamps immediately upon
exiting the Planetarium. No adult help was provided. The comet's tail was about 2
degrees in length, and appeared fan-shaped with linear striations through a 4-1/4
inch Astroscan telescope at 18X.