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NHNE News Flash:
About that Hale-Bopp Object
November 11, 1996

 

Hello Everyone,

Here is a letter that is presently posted on the Hale-Bopp Web site (www.halebopp.com). The article is written by the co-discoverer of the comet...

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The Non-Mysterious
"Mysterious Entity"

By Alan Hale
Co-Discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp
November 16, 1996

Within the past couple of days there has been quite a bit of discussion concerning a "mysterious Saturn-shaped object" supposedly photographed "trailing" Comet Hale-Bopp. This claim was made by a so-called "amateur astronomer" (Chuck Shramek from Houston) from a photograph he took on the evening of November 14, which he then discussed on Art Bell's radio talk show later that night. Some of the national news media apparently picked it up, and as a result this story has spread quite rapidly across the nation.

My suspicions were aroused immediately.

First, as readers might suspect, I've been following on the comet on a pretty regular basis, and I have not noticed anything unusual about or around it.

Second, the mere fact that this was discussed on the Art Bell show is enough in itself to raise suspcisions; Art Bell is pretty much the "Weekly World News" of the late-night radio talk-show circuit, and many outlandish theories that wouldn't receive air time anywhere else get aired there.

And finally, a check of Chuck Shramek's home page (http://paradise.pplnet.com/ shram/comet.htm) reveals writings full of government 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.

With the help of some of the local news media and some astronomer friends in the area, I was finally able to track down "the" image. [Editor's Note: Alan does not have regular access to the Web.] 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 (http://stdatu. stsci.edu/dss/) corresponding to the comet's ephmeris 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 apocalpytic 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.

 

 


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