Hail! Hail! Hale-Bopp!
|Photo courtesy of Chris Garasi, Chris Gelino, Dawn Leeber and Amy Simon.|
Comet Hale-Bopp taken in a 2-minute exposure through a Meade 10" telescope at New Mexico State University.
After 20 months waiting in the wings, sharpening up its act, Comet Hale-Bopp is ready to take the stage. Beginning this week, the week of March 10, you won't have to have a telescope, or be willing to get up at the crack of dawn, to see what some are calling the comet of the century.
Hale and Arizona star-gazer Thomas Bopp (who spotted the
comet the same night Hale did) discovered the comet that now
bears their name, Hale-Bopp was beyond the orbit of Jupiter,
deep in the solar system on its route toward a close
encounter with the sun.
By this past Saturday, March 8, Hale-Bopp could be seen from Albuquerque just past dusk with the naked eye, appearing around 7 p.m. as a fuzzy star hanging just above the northwest horizon. And day by day, it will be rising higher in the early evening sky as it heads toward its late-March, early-April peak.
Hale-Bopp could rightly be called a New Mexico comet. Cloudcroft, N.M., astronomer Alan Hale was
killing time with his telescope in the driveway of his
mountain home in July 1995, when he first spotted the fuzzy blob. A
few quick checks of his sky atlases told him he had found a
days, it became clear that this was no ordinary comet.
should be the brightest comet in your lifetime or mine,"
astronomer Alan Stern with the Southwest Research Institute
in Boulder, Colo., said days after the discovery. "It could
be like the Fourth of July."
far more distant than any other comet at its moment of
discovery. It set professional and amateur astronomers into
a comet-watching frenzy that will reach its peak in late
March, as Comet Hale-Bopp makes its closest approach to the
Journal science writer John Fleck has been writing about the comet since its discovery, and we've collected an archive of his work.