Monday, June 18, 2012

My photos of comet Hale-Bopp from March 23, 1997

comet Hale Bopp photo March 1997
Comet Hale-Bopp appears above the western horizon near Dayton, Ohio

I had just turned 13 when The Great Comet of 1997 appeared in the light-polluted skies over the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio. I don't remember hearing much about it, an occasional photo in the paper kept me interested for a few minutes possibly. Looking through Wikipedia now, I'm astonished that the thing was visible for several months!

My 7th grade handwriting, looks about the same now
On the afternoon of March 23, 1997 my parents took me to our neighborhood Motophoto (do these still exist?) to get a special kind of film for low-light photography. I looked through my camera's manual to learn that I had a way to do long-exposure shots by holding down the shutter button.
That night, I went into the field across the street with my dad to set up the tripod and take some photos of the comet that was faintly visible to the west. Holding the shutter button down by hand, I snapped some long exposure photos (about 15 seconds each).

Hale Bopp comet over Ohio 1997
Hale-Bopp higher in the sky on the evening of March 23, 1997

I didn't realize it at the time, but according to Wikipedia, "Hale–Bopp had its closest approach to Earth on March 22, 1997 at a distance of 1.315 AU." This is probably why there was an article in the Dayton Daily News which prompted my parents to suggest a photography expedition that next evening.


I remember taking my photos in to 7th grade science class at Watt's Middle School. The teacher and the other students were very impressed, and remarked at my cleverness as they passed the photos around the room (or at least that's how I remember it).

This comet had a large impact on my interest in science and the night sky, and I eagerly await its return in the year 4385!

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