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Article <57qam9$>
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Subject: YES! Zeta Perdictions Right on Target!
Date: 30 Nov 1996 21:58:33 GMT

Analysis of the following Saturday morning article in the light of the Zeta predictions made Thursday 24-Nove-96 to follow in the next posting. First, the article. (YES!)


Front page article called Heavenly Show on the Way - Bright predictions for the Hale-Bopp comet - hunk of ice, rock to whiz past Earth in spring, in the 30-Nov-96 San Francisco Chronicle

A giant comet is promising a great show this spring, perhaps becoming one of the brightest comets of the century, say scientists and amateur astronomers who have been watching the onrushing ice ball for 16 months. This mountain sized hunk of ice and rock is called Hale-Bopp. It was discovered in late July last year by two American comet hunters, professional astronomer Alan Hale of Cloudcroft, N.M. and amateur Thomas Bopp of Phoenix. They spotted it as a tiny, fuzzy spot in the sky when it was still 666 million miles from the sun, well beyond Jupiter and remarkably far away for a comet to be visible. It was 250 times brighter than Haley's Comet at that distance.

Over the summer, the comet brightened less than expected, dimming hopes for a sensational climax early next year. But in recent weeks it has begun brightening again. "I looked at it last night, and it's doing fine." Hale said Wednesday, after taking a look at his half-namesake comet with an eight-inch telescope. "It's going to be a lot of fun when it comes closer". Already, its coma and tail - the haze of dust and gas that surrounds its center and is blown away from the sun in a long streamer - stretches across millions of miles. In areas well away from city lights, the comet is visible to the naked eye even now as a faint, fuzzy patch low on the horizon about an hour and a half after sunset and about ten degrees north of the place where the sun went down. But it is moving close to the sun in the sky, as viewed from Earth's position, and until late February will not be easy to see.

At its peak next March and April, as it warms in the sun's light and becomes easier to see from Earth, it could grow a spectacular tail stretching across a third or more of the sky. Its "nucleus" or head will be near the horizon after sunset with its tail pointing up. "We started observing it with the Hubble Space Telescope in September of '95, and have kept it up since then, through October this year," said Harold Weaver, an astronomer specializing in comets at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "It has a huge production of water and dust. It is already producing more gas than Haley did when it was three times closer."

Like all comets, Hale-Bopp is a leftover from the formation of the planets more than 4 billion years ago, with an elongated orbit that puts it far from the inner planets most of the time. At its heart is a solid core, or nucleus, of ice and rock. Astronomers can only guess, but they believe Hale-Bopp's nucleus could be as much as 25 miles across. This is two or three times bigger then most comets. Hale-Bopp will reach its closest approach to the sun, some 85 million miles, on April 1, when activity on its surface - ices boiling vapors into space, carrying clouds of dust - should pick up considerably. Calculations show it has been about 3,000 years since it last came this close to the sun.

Right now, the comet is about twice Earth's distance from the sun, or about 200 million miles. Its orbit is a stretched-out ellipse at right angles to Earth's orbit. While its nearest approach to the sun brings it to about the same distance as Earth, the orbits will not cross, so there is no way it will hit us. It will come no nearer than 120 million miles from Earth, on March 23, 1997. While nothing about comets can be guaranteed, chances are high it will look brighter than Hyakutake, a comet that became easily visible last spring, even though at its closest it will be 13 times as far away from Earth as Hyakutake. For comet watchers, having two bright ones in consecutive years has brought a welcome break in a long drought of prominent comets.

Comet fanciers have already caught on to Hale-Bopp. Fringe groups have filled Internet chat rooms with tales of inexplicable changes in course. One amateur astronomer in Texas even went on a nationally syndicated radio talk show and asserted that a previously unknown Saturn-like planet is accompanying Hale-Bopp. More rational observers assure the public that the "planet" was merely a background star, and that there is nothing weird or April-Fools-Day tricky about the comet. "It is a perfectly normal comet, except that it is larger than most," said Russel Sipe, an Orange County amateur astronomer, and keeper of one of the many Internet web pages devoted to Hale-Bopp. "We're all hopeful, but we're all leery, too. You can never be sure with comets."

While its success as a public spectacle is not yet assured, scientists are convinced it is a sure winner as a source of information on the nature and composition of comets. Weaver estimated that Hale-Bopp is now spewing about 50 tons per day of water in a sort of vaporous fog, and an equal amount of dust, plus smaller amounts of other gases. "It is of tremendous interest for two reasons," Weaver said. "It is so bright, we can observe it for a very long period of time, for several years. And we have more instruments to watch it than we have had for other comets."

Comet Web Sites: Internet users can find many World Wide Web sites devoted to Comet Hale-Bopp. Here are three of the best.