January 16, 1997
by Whitley Strieber
The Hale-Bopp controversy has degenerated into one of those strange, unanswerable enigmas that so often emerge out of attempts to see beyond the edge of accepted science. A major fraud has been exposed, and, while the possibility that there are strange objects near Hale-Bopp, at least at times, remains, it seems unlikely that it is doing anything really unusual, like emitting radio signals.
It is time for a review of the situation. First, there are a number of images of the comet that have contributed to the controversy. Among those that have been published online are one of a series taken by amateur astronomer Chuck Shramek in November of 1996, and one taken by the Japanese National Observatory on April 20th. The Japanese photograph remained on the observatory's website from April until the controversy erupted after Shramek, remote viewer Courtney Brown, (http://www.farsight.org)Director of the Farsight Institute, Farsight employee Prudence Calabrese and myself discussed the matter with Art Bell (http://www.artbell.com) on his radio program.
Brown and Calabrese reported that they were in contact with an astrophysicist who would soon announce in a press conference that the object was four times the size of the earth, that it glowed from within, and that it was emitting radio signals.
There was an immediate assumption made by the astronomical community that it was being claimed that this object was a gigantic extraterrestrial spacecraft, but the likelihood that it was some sort of natural phenomenon always held equal or greater weight. Nevertheless, the 'alien spacecraft' possibility caused the entire community to almost immediately deny that there was any possibility of any unusual object near the Hale-Bopp comet.
At that point, the Japanese National Observatory changed its story, along with a number of other observatories around the world. I and at least one other member of the public were witness to this process, but as the Japanese response is the only one that is unequivocally documented in the public record, it is the one that I will comment on in detail.
From the time the Observatory posted their photograph in April until they changed their story in December, it had been listed as "anomalous funnel at edge of an object next to Hale-Bopp Comet."
Once public interest developed, the story changed. The "anomalous funnel" became a "CCD artifact" familiar to all astronomers. The "object next to Hale-Bopp Comet" became a star.
It was pointed out that all the other stars in the field were streaking due to the fact that the telescope was following the comet during exposure of the photograph, and no explanation of this fact was offered. Some astronomers published statements to the effect that the vertical elongation of the object was a parallel form of distortion similar to streaking, and present because this star was so much larger. Such distortion might indeed have appeared in the case of a large star, but the elongation would have been horizontal, in the direction of the movement of the telescope.
The University of Hawaii has published an detailed explanation of all the major pictures that includes an explanation of the Japanese photograph and, in each case, identifies the star allegedly mistaken for an object.
The comet, as it approached the sun, was outgassing water vapor at the fantastic
rate of 35,000 tons a second, and what sort of disturbances might have been
built up in its very active corona are completely unknown. Perhaps gigantic
transient plasmas might be such a disturbance.
Another possibility is that debris from the comet itself occasionally forms into something that appears to be a separate object. The Hubble Space Telescope recorded an image of a large amount of material being ejected from the Hale-Bopp comet. The image is available on NASA'S Hubble Space Telescope Public Access Page under 'Comets.' Material being ejected on this scale could obviously appear at times as discreet objects, only to fade and disappear after a time, then 'reappear' later when more material is ejected.
Another part of the controversy has revolved around the mysterious
astrophysicist that Prudence Calabrese said on Bell's program was on the point
of making a public announcement claiming the object as a discovery. He never
came forward, but Calabrese did provide Art Bell and myself with photographs of
the object allegedly taken by him. We agreed not to publish these photographs
until a reasonable amount of time had passed, and he'd had his opportunity to
make his announcement.
The marked-up version identifies the object nestled deep in the comet's corona,
immediately behind it. The clear version shows the same thing without the
digital markings. To all appearances this is a genuine astronomical photograph,
and the very close proximity of the object to the comet makes it hard (but not
impossible) to claim that the object is a star. However, there is also a claim
so strong that it is all but irrefutable, that the photo has been doctored to
add the object behind the comet digitially, and is in this sense a fake. See the
Image Comparison Here.
The status of the photograph does not change the fact that there is a compelling debate over the existence of the object. This picture is a side-issue, and has never been in itself a part of the debate over the validity of the object, which remains very much a matter of question. However, it must be added that the notion that the object was emitting radio signals also comes from the same people who offered this photo to myself and Art Bell as proof of their bona fides. Thus, even if there is an object near the Hale/Bopp comet, it appears that there is no verifiable or creditable evidence that it is anything but a natural phenomenon.
The comet is presently low on the eastern horizon, and visible just before sunrise. It is readily viewable through good binoculars, and will become rise steadily higher into the sky and be visible earlier, until it will be near the top of the night sky and readily visible to the naked eye by late February. It will not have a long tail, in all probability, because of the angle of the comet to the earth. It will pass no closer than 122 million miles from earth, and will not affect the earth in any way. The University of Hawaii department of astronomy has provided a map and ephemeris of the comet to make it easier to find it in the sky during its transit this spring.
Will it have an object moving with it? If it does, this should not be difficult to observe. If not, then the Hale-Bopp object, despite the compelling if elusive evidence, must be relegated to the area of the unknown. My own personal opinion is that the object is real, because I don't think that the situation has been adequately explained. However, I do not think that there is any evidence that the object is emitting radio signals, and every possibility that it will be found to be a natural phenomenon, should it reappear in the spring.
The evidence of an object, quite frankly, remains compelling, and the best place to explore the pros and cons of its existence are at the "official" Hale-Bopp Homepage (http://www.arcorp.com/Hale-Bopp.html) where Russell Sipe makes the argument against very clear and cogent, and the Orville Parrinello (http://www.pe.net/~minnie/origin.html) defense of Chuck Shramek, which is also extremely convincing, and brilliantly organized. Chuck's own home page (http://www.NeoSoft.com/~cshramek/) displays his pictures and makes his argument forcefully as well.
Whether or not it is an alien starship, I have no idea. But if it is, we will all undoubtedly find out sooner or later.