Category Archives: National Geographic Society

Comet Hale-Bopp: The Most Widely Observed Comet of the 20th Century


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Image of comet Hale-BoppC/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp), taken on 1997 April 04. The field shown is about 6.5° x 6.5°. At full resolution, the stars in the image appear slightly elongated, as the camera tracked the comet during the exposure. (Photo: E. Kolmhofer, H. Raab; Johannes-Kepler-Observatory, Linz, Austria)
Image of comet Hale-Bopp (C/1995 O1), taken on 1997 April 04. The field shown is about 6.5° x 6.5°. At full resolution, the stars in the image appear slightly elongated, as the camera tracked the comet during the exposure. (Photo: E. Kolmhofer, H. Raab; Johannes-Kepler-Observatory, Linz, Austria)

On July 23, 1995, two independent observers Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp in the United States discovered the comet Hale-Bopp. This comet formally designated C/1995 O1 was perhaps the most widely observed comet of the 20th century, the third largest comet in the last 500 years, and one of the brightest seen for many decades. It was visible to the naked eye for a record 18 months. The previous record holder, the Great Comet of 1811, officially designated C/1811 F1, was visible to the naked eye for around 260 days.

Dr. Alan Hale
Dr. Alan Hale

Astronomer Alan Hale was born in 1958 in Tachikawa, Japan, when his father was serving in the United States Air Force. Four months later his father got transferred to Holloman Air Force Base outside Alamogordo, New Mexico. Hale served in the United States Navy from 1976 to 1983. In 1980, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. Next, he joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and worked as an engineering contractor for the Deep Space Network until 1986. As a contractor, he worked in several projects involving spacecraft, including Voyager 2. After Voyager’s encounter with Uranus, he left JPL. He attended New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. In 1992, he earned his Ph.D. in astronomy.

Hale had spent hundreds of hours searching for comets without success. On July 23, 1995, while tracking known comets from his driveway in New Mexico he chanced on the comet co-named after him just after midnight. The comet with an apparent magnitude of 10.5 was near the globular cluster M70 in the constellation of Sagittarius. He checked and confirmed that there was no other deep-sky object near M70. Next, he consulted a directory of known comets and established that none of them was in that area of the sky he had observed. He then found the object moving relative to the background stars.

As a trained astronomer who had seen about 200 comets, Hale to register his finding sent an email to the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the clearing house for astronomical discoveries operating under the auspices of Commission 6 of the International Astronomical Union (IAU). A few hours later his effort was rewarded. His new comet was officially designated C/1995 O1. His name would also be attached.

But Alan Hale was not the only observer that night.

That very night, about 400 miles (644 kilometers) away, Thomas Bopp was observing star clusters and galaxies through telescopes with friends in the desert outside Phoenix, Arizona.

Thomas Bopp in 1997 (Photo: Ron Baalke)
Thomas Bopp in 1997 (Photo: Ron Baalke)

Amateur astronomer Thomas J. Bopp was born in 1949 in Denver, Colorado. Later he relocated with his family to Youngstown, Ohio, where he graduated from Chaney High School in 1967. He attended Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio, and has lived in Tucson, Arizona since 1980. He is a Life member of the Mahoning Valley Astronomical Society (MVAS).

Bopp was a manager at a construction materials factory. He did not own a telescope. He too noticed some fuzzy object near M70 in the constellation of Sagittarius and pointed it out to his friend Jim Steven who owned the 70 inches telescope of Dubsoniano design he was using.

Bopp had never come across a comet. Jim looked at Bopp and said, “Tom, I think you have a comet.”

He knew he had to contact the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams in Cambridge, but he did not have the address with him. So, he drove back home to get it.

In the wee hours he managed to send a Western Union telegram to the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams in Cambridge where its arrival was greeted with bemusement. Brian Marsden, the leading voice on a committee that has the last say laughed. “Nobody sends telegrams anymore,” he commented. “I mean, by the time that telegram got here, Alan Hale had already e-mailed us three times with updated coördinates.”

However, the following morning, the comet was confirmed as a new entity and designated as C/1995 O1. The discovery was announced in International Astronomical Union circular 6187.

Sometimes weird things happened with when major comets appeared. According to a  report, 39 members of a California cult claimed they were departing on a spaceship that was trailing comet Hale-Bopp and ate their last meal before ritually committing mass suicide. For Thomas Bopp, the comet portended a loss. As comet Hale-Bopp reached its most spectacular point in the sky, his brother and sister-in-law who had been out photographing the comet were killed in a late night car crash. “This has been the best week of my life. And, the worst,” he lamented.

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Internet Photo Hoax: “Skeleton of Giant Found in India”


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Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Bhima's son Gadotkach-like skeleton found
Image courtesy IronKite

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The above image of a giant’s skeleton is in fact a digital collage of three different photos created by a Canadian illustrator using the alias IronKite. It was placed third in a 2002 competition titled “Archaeological Anomalies 2,” run by Worth1000, a website that hosts contests for digital artists. The website asked contestants to create a hoax archaeological discovery.

Blogs, emails, and even a newspaper have used the above “photograph” to give credence and to substantiate their so-called reports that the National Geographic Society had discovered an ancient race of human giants in India.

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Bhima's son Gadotkach-like skeleton found - 2

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Recently, I came across the above image of a news item included in a YouTube video titled “RACE OF GIANTS found in India” uploaded by YTABUSESusers on December 15, 2008. This news, submitted by G. Subramaniam of Chennai, in a less known Indian newspaper called “Hindu Voice” looked dubious. It does not carry the date of publication.

In the article titled “Skeleton of Giant” Is Internet Photo Hoax” in National Geographic News, James Owen wrote: “An often cited March 2007 article in India’s Hindu Voice monthly, for example, claimed that a National Geographic Society team, in collaboration with the Indian Army, had dug up a giant human skeleton in India.”

Subramaniam reported:

“Recent exploration activity in the northern region of India uncovered a skeletal remains of a human of phenomenal size.” The story went on to say “The discovery was made by National Geographic Team (India Division) with support from the Indian Army since the area comes under jurisdiction of the Army.”

Hindu Voice magazineHowever, the monthly, “Hindu Voice,” based in Mumbai (Bombay), published a retraction after readers alerted its editor P. Deivamuthu to the hoax. The editor said: “We are against spreading lies and canards,” and he added “Moreover, our readers are a highly intellectual class and will not brook any nonsense.”

On December 14, 2007, James Owen for National Geographic News wrote: “The National Geographic Society has not discovered ancient giant humans, despite rampant reports and pictures.”

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Canadian artist IronKite used this mastodon-excavation photo taken in 2000 in Hyde Park, New York as the basis for his entry in an online photo-manipulation contest

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IronKite used the above photo taken in 2000 of a mastodon-excavation in Hyde Park, New York as the basis for his photo-manipulation.

In December 2007, he told National Geographic News that he digitally superimposed a human skeleton over the mastodon-dig photo. Later on, he added a man holding a shovel and re-colored his clothing to match that of the man in the above, authentic picture. The goal was to make the shoveler appear to be part of the excavation team. “To create the photo collage, I kept most of the wood frame from the dig site and replaced most of the muddy dirt with ground from the skeleton picture, using a fuzzy ‘brush’ to fade the two so no hard lines would be visible,” IronKite said.

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Mastodon-excavation photo taken in 2000 in Hyde Park, New York
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Though the above authentic photograph of the New York State mastodon excavation was not used to create the completed ‘giant’ skeleton image, it served as the foundation for the digital artwork.

Since 2004, this digitally manipulated artwork inspired unfounded reports of archaeologists unearthing a skeleton of an ancient human giant in India. IronKite, the Canadian digital artist, had nothing to do with the subsequent hoax.

Avi Muchnick who runs Worth1000, the web site that sponsored the photo-manipulation contests that inspired this fake photo said: “We have thousands of people who regularly create images like these in image-editing tools like Phoenix and Photoshop. So, it’s no surprise to us when some of these images get passed around the web as authentic depictions of actual events.”

James Owen wrote: “Variations of the giant photo hoax include alleged discovery of a 60- to 80-foot long (18- to 24-meter) human skeleton in Saudi Arabia. In one popular take, which likewise first surfaced in 2004, an oil-exploration team is said to have made the find. Here the skeleton is held up as evidence of giants mentioned in Islamic, rather than Hindu, scriptures.”

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