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Hale-Bopp Astrophoto Diary

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A few pictures from my collection taken during Hale-Bopp's visit in 1997.

A map showing the locations of the comet when I had opportunities to photograph it.

Hyland Tower. The comet shines through the city skyglow.

City Cometscape. Poised above the City of Lakes.

Hale-Bopp below Cassiopeia. And other landmarks in the sky.

Deep Zumbra Sky. Zillions of stars and a signature from a passing plane.

Triple Tail. The ion tail spreads into filaments.

A Hale-Bopp Astrophoto Diary


This started as a personal project to take some pictures of comet Hale-Bopp during its visit to the inner solar system. I knew that astrophotography was harder than it looked, based on attempts I had made a few years earlier, but my goals this time were modest: I would "piggyback" a conventional camera on my telescope and make some time exposures of the sky in the general direction of the comet. The telescope's clock drive would track the sky's motion and prevent the stars from making trails during the minute or so that the shutter would be open.


This plan seemed simple enough. In executing it however, I discovered that I had underestimated the perversity of inanimate objects and natural phenomena.


I had three general photographic goals that evolved over the three months that I worked on this. The first was simple: find out what film types and exposure times worked well to make comet pictures. The second was to take a picture of the comet with a cityscape in the view; from all predictions the comet was going to be bright enough to do this. The final picture I had in mind was a nice comet "portrait": a long tail and pinpoint background stars.


The pursuit of these goals was quite an adventure. I ended up with a set of pictures that largely met my goals, but I was consistently surprised that they were not the ones I expected. Instead, the pictures that turned out best were the practice shots, or the exposure tests, or the ones I took only because I wanted to finish the roll of film!


Of course, the reason for this may be that I rarely was able to make an exposure without something going wrong. Every picture has some story behind it that usually includes a disaster. At first I thought this was just my inexperience, and that I don't function very well in the early predawn hours, but after a while I had to conclude that it was even more than this. This hobby intrinsically has many things that can go wrong. My conclusion, and my advice, is that to do this sport you mostly need perseverence and the right stuff, including good long-underwear.


So here are my pictures of Comet Hale-Bopp as it passed through our neighborhood as seen from beneath the skies of Minneapolis and its surrounding area. They are arranged in chronologic order as the comet moved along its path across the constellations in the map above.


June 1997


[Note: these pages contain excerpts from the Astrophoto Diary. The complete set contains twelve photos originally arranged as the City View Comet Calendar for 1998. -TAO]

Copyright 1999-Apr-27

Thor Olson