This page updated 8 April 1997

Hale-Bopp Observations

This page will contain my (Joe Roberts) personal observations of Comet Hale Bopp. Newest observations are towards the top.

17 March 97 - present

Are written observations worth anything at this point (6 April)? Hale-Bopp has been a spactacular performer. I have spent much time chasing and photographing the comet. Click here for some of my Hale-Bopp pictures.

16 March 97 (Sunday), 4:00am - 5:30am EST

This morning I drove out to Blanford MA USA (a dark sky site). I took a number of photographs of Hale-Bopp. Most were 135mm F2.5 shots of 4 to 6 minute duration on Kodak Royal Gold 1000 film. Shots were guided piggyback on a Celestron CG-11. Also took one shot at 2800mm F10 (through the scope) on the 1000 film. In an attempt to pick out the "shock wave" detail in the nucleus of Hale-Bopp, I also took a number of photos at 2800mm F10 on Kodak Royal Gold 25 film; exposures ranged from 1/2 second to about 10 seconds. Hale-Bopp was a beautiful site in the northeastern sky. I also took a number of deep sky photos this morning as well as general observing of objects (see observation log).

15 March 97 (Saturday), 6:30pm EST

This evening I photographed Hale-Bopp from Wilbraham, MA USA. Took 4 shots of Hale-Bopp on Kodak Royal Gold 1000 using a Pentax 135mm F2.5 lens (stopped to F4). Exposures were 5 seconds and 10 seconds. Hale-Bopp was easily visible in bright twilight.

12 March 97 (Wednesday), 6:45pm EST

Tonight I observed Hale Bopp from my front yard in Oakdale, CT USA. Tonight was my first evening sighting (this year) of Hale Bopp. I was amazed at how high and bright it was! It was easily visible; I heard some young kids down the street yelling "I see it! I see it!"

I set up the camera and took 4 pictures on Kodak Royal Gold 100 film using a 135mm F2.5 lens (stopped to F4). Exposure times were 1/2, 1/4, 5 and 10 seconds. It was still pretty light outside so I don't know what the results will be. Took a quick look at the comet with the Edmund Astroscan 2001 scope. Even though it was still light out, the tail could be seen clear across the Astroscan's 3 degree field. The nucleus was very bright. I did not see the "shock wave" phenomenon in the nucleus that I had seen last Sunday morning, but that observation was made at 70x in an 11" scope. The Astroscan is a 4.25 inch scope and the power is 16x.

9 March 97 (Sunday), 1:00am - 5:30am EST

This morning I drove out to Blanford, MA, where the skies are MUCH better than my usual observing sites. Even at this relatively good site there remains significant light pollution from Springfield MA and Hartford CT. My mission this morning was mostly astrophotography... specifically, Hale Bopp. I arrived very early to ensure proper equipment setup. Hale Bopp only has a "window of opportunity" of about one hour for good altitude and no twilight. I had to make the best of my time!

I took numerous photographs of various deep sky objects and constellations while I was under these very good skies. In between photographs I looked at a variety of objects. I kept a watch on the northeastern horizon. Soon I saw a very bright object... Hale Bopp. Despite its very low altitude the comet was clearly visible!

When Hale Bopp reached a decent altitude, I began photographing at a frantic pace. I had two cameras (a Canon SLR w/ TMAX 400 and a Pentax K1000 with Kodak Royal Gold 1000 and then later Fuji Super 800G). I found that a 135mm telephoto frames the comet quite nicely.

During this frantic session, I was plagued with camera problems! First, the K1000 experienced mirror latch up. Finally got that fixed, then I couldn't get the lens cap off my 500mm lens! It was 6 degrees and I think it either contracted or "froze" in place (it's a fine thread metal screw on cap). Never did get the cap off unfortunately. Then, later on, there was a film jam in the K1000. Had to sacrifice about half of a roll of film (luckily only two or three shots were on it thus far). All of this during a time crunch situation! An hour or so seems like a long time for taking comet pictures, but it goes by VERY fast (especially when time is wasted fixing problems). I also took a number of shots through the main (11") telescope. A fair amount of time (cumulative anyway) is necessary to switch out different cameras and accessories, and for rebalancing the scope to handle the different loads.

I developed the B+W rolls of film that I shot but have not had time to make prints. The negatives look very good. Exposures of 2 to 4 minutes on TMAX appear to capture all the detail that there is to get using this film (lens at F2.8). I also got the color shots back and they came out very good. Both the Kodak Royal Gold 1000 and Fuji Super 800 G gave very good results; I lean towards the Kodak as giving the better looking shot overall. Excellent results were obtained with a 135mm F2.5 lens using 2, 4 and 8 minute (guided) exposures. Even fixed tripod shots of 15 seconds provided an amazingly good photo (50mm F2.0 lens)! The "through the telescope" shots came out generally pretty good also. I exposed for anywhere from about 4 seconds up to about 30. All of the shots had a badly "burned out" nucleus! I was hoping to capture the detail in the nucleus. This comet is so bright that I'll probably try ISO 25 speed film (in order to capture nucleus detail).

I looked at Hale Bopp through the 11" scope and the view was absolutely stunning. I saw something like I has never seen before: the comet nucleus looked like a very bright dot with 3 or 4 "shock waves" of material coming off to one side! It looked sort of like the following: *))) Pretty poor "drawing" but I can't think of a better term than shock wave. I hope this phenomenon lasts. I suspect it can be captured on film if I use the scope at 2800mm F10 with slow film and the "hat trick" exposure method.

Overall, this observing session was extremely enjoyable and well worth the 45 mile drive up into the hills and forest in the middle of the night. I was outside in 6 degree weather for 5 hours and did not have a problem with the cold.

7 March 97 (Friday), 4:45 - 5:00am EST

This morning I observed Hale Bopp from my front yard in Oakdale, CT USA. My first reaction: WOW! I hadn't seen Hale Bopp in over a week due to clouds every morning. I got up and looked out my bathroom window (two fairly dirty panes of glass plus a screen) and Hale Bopp was clearly visible, even through a bunch of tree branches! Hale Bopp is shaping up to be one fine comet. I took a look with 7x35 Binoculars, and the tail has developed nicely and readily shows structure. The gas portion is on the southern side of the comet, and the dust part on the north. The gas tail seems to go straight away from the comet; the dust part branches off to the north. The tail was evident to the full width of my binoculars, 8 degrees. Limiting naked eye magnitude in the area was a bit better than 5.0. To the naked eye, the comet is very obvious, and should be easy to spot by anyone. To the naked eye, the tail is obvious, but I much prefer the binocular view. The magnitude of the comet is probably between +1 and 0 if one considers the "total" light. In my opinion, it "looks" about as bright as Altair at a "quick glance". I took several photographs with a Pentax K1000 on a fixed tripod:

If Hale Bopp continues its development (both in brightness and tail structure) this (in my opinion) will be among the finest comets to come by in recent history!

26 Feb 97 (Wednesday), 5:00 - 5:20am EST

This morning I observed Hale Bopp from a hotel in Liverpool NY USA. Liverpool is right next to Syracuse; it's remarkable to note that it was actually quite clear outside (usually it's cloudy here!). Hale Bopp is bright; as bright as Deneb and now beginning to rival Altair. Hale Bopp was quite close to SAO 70917, a 5.7 magnitude star in Cygnus. The light pollution in the area I was observing (in a field just south of Homewood Suites) was pretty bad; naked eye limiting magnitude in the area of the comet was about 4+ (I could see SAO 70467, mag 4.3, but barely). Despite this condition, the comet's tail was unmistakable to the naked eye. In 7x35 binoculars, the tail is very bright, and extended to about 4 degrees. The first 2 degrees or so of the tail are quite bright. The southern portion of the tail is brighter; a "jet" of material can been seen coming of to the southwest. The northern most portion of the tail appears to be dusty (darker). I took 6 photos of the comet, all on TMAX 400 film with a 50mm lens: F1.4: 15/30 sec; F2.0: 15/30 sec; F2.8: 15/30 sec. Twilight appeared to begin interfering with the view at about 5:20am EST. It was chilly outside, but not nearly as bad as it could have been for the Syracuse area. I would love to have seen Hale Bopp in a truly dark sky; the tail would probably be twice as long!

25 Feb 97 (Tuesday), 5:05 - 5:20am EST

I observed Hale Bopp from my front yard in Oakdale CT USA this morning. Hale Bopp is BRIGHT! Easily as bright as Deneb, seemingly brighter than when I saw it on 23 Feb. Binoculars showed a 4 degree long tail despite moonlight bright enough to read a book by. Took 4 photos @50mm on TMAX 400: F2.0 15/30 sec, F2.8 15/30 sec. Also observed Hale Bopp with an Astroscan 2001 telescope (16x). The view was magnificent. Even at the low power of 16x, the nucleus was very oblong, with a large jet coming off to the SW(?). The tail was very bright out to 2 degrees, before thinning out. The tail has a dust lane down the center. At this time, Hale Bopp should be blatantly obvious to anyone familiar with the night sky. In addition, it should be easy to find by non-astronomers, especially those with binoculars.

23 Feb 97 (Sunday), 5:00 am EST

This morning I observed Hale Bopp from Wilbraham, MA USA. There was a full Moon in the opposite corner of the sky, rendering the limiting magnitude to about 4 or so. At a quick glance, Hale Bopp is now about as bright as Deneb. It is bright enough to disturb the appearance of the Summer Triangle (it temporarily becomes the "Summer Trapezoid"). About 2 degrees of tail was obvious to the naked eye despite the bright moonlight. Binoculars helped the view considerably. Took 5 photos (unguided) on a fixed tripod mounted camera: 50mm F2.0, 15/30/60 seconds, and 50mm F2.8 15/30 seconds. Film was TMAX 400. Hale Bopp is noticeably brighter than when I saw it on the 20th. Temperature outside was 20 degrees F. In a dark sky (without moonlight) the comet would be quite a sight based on what I saw this morning...

20 Feb 97 (Thursday), 5:10 am EST

This morning I observed Hale Bopp from my front yard in Oakdale, CT USA. The conditions were pretty decent for this area, and the full Moon had just gone down over the northwestern horizon. Hale Bopp was easily visible with a quick glance at the area. In 7x35 binoculars, the tail had three distinct parts. The northernmost section was the longest (gas); the central portion seemed to be more dust, and the southern section was gas (but not nearly as long as the northern section). In binoculars this morning I would estimate the tail overall length at about 4 degrees. It extended up to the star 41 Cygnus. I also took 4 photographs (unguided) on a tripod mounted camera. Exposures were 15 and 30 seconds at F1.4, and 15 and 30 seconds at F2; film wa TMAX 400. Later in the morning at about 5:50am, I could still easily see Hale Bopp even in heavy twilight. Overall Hale Bopp does not seem to be quite as bright as Deneb, however if all of the light from Hale Bopp were condensed to a point it probably would be as bright or brighter than Deneb.

19 Feb 97 (Wednesday), 5:30am EST

This morning I observed Hale Bopp from my front yard in Oakdale, CT USA. I checked at 5:10am but there was a bank of clouds in the area. At 5:30 the conditions were not too good; a film of high clouds were present in addition to the onset of twilight. Despite all of this, Hale Bopp was easily visible. The tail was not as good as it was on 16 Feb no doubt due to conditions. Hale Bopp did not seem to be any brighter than when I saw it on the 16th. About all I could say about it this morning was that it had moved considerably since I saw it last. As I mentioned on the 16th, its brightness is beginning to rival Deneb, but Deneb is still clearly brighter. I also used 7x35 binoculars. Some detail was visible in the tail, but the view was diminished by the clouds and the brightening sky. Hopefully it will be clear tomorrow AM!

16 Feb 97 (Sunday), 5:00am - 5:45am EST

This morning I observed Hale Bopp from Wilbraham, MA USA. The conditions were pretty good for this area; the Milky Way in Cygnus was visible but not obvious.

My first impression was that Hale Bopp has brightened considerably since I saw it about 5 days ago. The comet should be VERY obvious to anyone who is familiar with the constellations. In my estimation, the comet is beginning to rival Deneb in brightness, and a tail is now visible with the naked eye (a week ago binoculars were needed to clearly see the tail). In 8x50s, the tail is obvious to 5 degrees, and has two distinct "sections". The central portion of the tail seems to be darker than the two outer sections. I also used a Meade 4.5 inch F8 reflector to look at the comet. Using a Televue 32mm Plossl (28x), the comet was VERY BRIGHT! The nucleus showed a distinct nonsymetrical shape; it was oblong and seemed to have a distinct jet coming off to one side. I also used an 8mm Televue Plossl (113x) on the nucleus. At this power, the nucleus was very obviously oblong. I also took about a dozen photographs with a fixed tripod mounted camera. Used a 50mm F1.4 lens and a 28mm F2.8 lens. I took a number of exposures ranging from 15 seconds to 60 seconds. Film was TMAX 400.

In short, Hale Bopp should be obvious to any amateur astronomer; it shows a short tail with the naked eye, and about a 5 degree tail (from here anyway) in 8x50 binoculars. The amount that Hale Bopp has brightened since last week is very encouraging. If it continues at this rate, it could very well rival (or beat) Hyakutake! Hale Bopp is now a glorious site in binoculars!

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