Comet Hale-Bopp

Comet Hale-Bopp taken by Andy Smetzer, Waynesboro, PA Date: March 9 1997.Time: 5:00 a.m. 30 sec. exp. f 1.6Kodak 1000 sp. film

Discovered on July 22, 1995 by Alan Hale (Cloudcroft, NM) and Tom Bopp (Pheonix, AZ).

"Scientific" name: Comet C/1995 01

Its period was first estimated to be 40,000 years, but this has been greatly reduced due to the loss of water vapor, other gases and, gravitational forces. Now its period is estimated to be 2,400 years. This is the first recorded visit of Comet Hale-Bopp.

But, it did visit earth some 4200 years ago (2213 B.C. - the Egyptian pyramids were a mere 400 years old. The magnificent civilizations of the Greeks, Mayans, Incans and Aztecs did not yet exist).

Its next visit will be in the year 4397.

Size: approximately 50 kilometers, or 25ish miles in diameter.

Speed: Comet Hale-Bopp travels between 43,000 and 99,000 MPH.

Length of tail: 40 million miles (about half the distance between the earth and sun). Maximum tail length = 20 degrees. (1/2 degree is the apparent diameter of a full moon as seen from earth).

Closest approach to earth: 122 million miles.

First observed at a distance of 7 AU (one Astronomical Unit equals the distance between the earth and the sun, approximately 93 million miles).

Comets are essentially dirty, rocky snowballs. They formed at the same time as the planets of our solar system, some 4.6 billion years ago. Comets live in the Oort Cloud (1,000 to 100,000 AU away!). Occasionally, comets are dislodged from this cloud and change their orbits - that's when they visit our little corner of the solar system.

Comets are not harbingers of disasters, floods, earthquakes, plagues, or wars.
They do not cause assassinations, or overthrow kings and despots.
They are not hiding alien spacecrafts in their tails.
However, they are ancient visitors from deep space.

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Last update: July 2011 - Milwaukee, WI