Morning Apparition

Observing notes from the morning of Sunday, March 9, 1997

By this date, almost every astronomy discussion concerns a certain celestial visitor to our neck of the woods in the solar system. Of course I'm talking about Comet Hale-Bopp, discovered in July of 1995. This spring it is blazing across the sky, reminiscent of Comet Hyakutake last year. Although I've already been making some observations of the comet, this morning was my first real photographic attempt.

I arrived at Farrington Point, Lake Jordan, NC, at approximately 3:40 A.M. On the drive in, I could see Comet Hale-Bopp glowing brightly above the north eastern horizon. After getting the 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain setup, I decided to scrutinize the comet nucleus.

WOW! I've only observed a few comets in my life, but this comet has the most detail I've ever seen. You can see loops of dust or something in the coma. There are three arcs or hoods emanating out. They almost look like shock waves. They are believed to be from a very active jet, that is spewing material as the comet rotates. It gives it a sprinkler effect.

On top of this, you have a large dust tail and a large ion tail. They spread out in a gigantic V shape. The nucleus also rivals the brightest stars.

This is an easy comet to photograph. In exposures as short as one minute, my piggybacked camera easily picked up the long narrow blue ion tail. In fact, sometimes it shows up better than the bright dust tail. This is definitely the comet of the century. There's no excuse for anyone to miss Comet Hale-Bopp.

Jeffrey L. Polston

* Back to home page *