PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109. TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: Stephanie R. Zeluck
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 31, 1997
RENOWNED COMET HUNTERS TO GATHER AT CALTECH
Astronomers Dr. Alan Hale, Thomas Bopp, David Levy and Dr.
Don Yeomans will participate in a Comet Hale-Bopp viewing event
and panel discussion about comet exploration titled "Comet
Chasers: On the Trail of a Comet," at the California Institute
of Technology's Beckman Auditorium on Friday, April 11.
Admission to the public event is free, but tickets are
required to attend. Tickets are available from the Caltech
Ticket Office, 332 S. Michigan Avenue, Pasadena; by phone at
(818)395-4652; via fax at (818)795-1378; or via the Internet at
There is a limit of four tickets per request. For those outside
Southern California, the panel discussion will also be broadcast
The event will present an opportunity for the public to view
Comet Hale-Bopp and Comet Wild-2 (pronounced "vilt two") through
telescopes provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Astronomy
Following the comet viewing, an hour-long panel discussion
introduced by JPL Director Dr. Edward Stone and moderated by Levy
will take place in Caltech's Beckman Auditorium. Astronomers
Hale, Bopp, Yeomans and Levy will comprise the panel, discussing
comets Hale-Bopp and Wild-2, and NASA's future spacecraft
designed to fly past the rare celestial visitors.
Comet Hale-Bopp was discovered independently on July 22,
1995, by astronomer Hale and amateur astronomer Bopp from outside
their respective locations of Cloudcroft, NM, and Phoenix, AZ.
At the time of its discovery, Comet Hale-Bopp was more than 929
million kilometers (577 million miles) from Earth, appearing over
1,000 times brighter than Comet Halley did at that same distance.
Recently, Comet Hale-Bopp has been visible in the northeast
sky in the early morning before dawn, and in the northwest sky
just after evening twilight. In the coming days, the comet will
no longer be visible in the early morning hours. At the time of
the "Comet Chasers" event, Hale-Bopp will appear quite bright and
about 25 degrees up from the horizon in the northwest sky just
after sunset. This will be the highest point at which the comet
will appear, and it will set in the west after about two hours.
Levy, the panel discussion's moderator, is an amateur
astronomer who discovered Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in March 1993
along with Dr. Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker using a 1.2-meter
(48-inch) Schmidt telescope on Mount Palomar in California. That
comet went on to impact Jupiter in July 1994, providing the first
Earth- and space-based observation opportunities for viewing a
planetary collision by a comet.
"Comet Hale-Bopp is living up to its advanced billing" said
Yeomans, supervisor of JPL's Solar Systems Dynamics Group. "It's
the brightest comet in 20 years, and can be easily seen by
inexperienced observers. The only comparable comet was Comet
West seen in March 1976, which at its best was slightly brighter
than Hale-Bopp is now, but I'm hopeful that this comet will
become as bright as Comet West. It's rare that you get one
that's so civilized -- showing up in the evening sky about an
hour after sunset in the middle of prime time."
Comets, composed of ice and dust, are believed to be
remnants of the birth of the solar system. Their primordial
material may lend clues in learning more about the origin and
evolution of the planets. Originating in a region from beyond
the orbit of Pluto, comets can have orbits taking several
thousand years to complete. Hale-Bopp last passed by Earth 4,200
years ago, and is not expected to return for another 2,400 years.
Panelists will discuss several ambitious NASA missions that
will further study the nature of comets in order to learn more
about the evolution of the solar system. Stardust, scheduled for
launch in 1999, will capture material thrown off by Comet Wild-2
in 2004 and return those samples to Earth in 2006. Deep Space 1,
a mission under JPL's New Millennium program that is scheduled
for launch in 1998, will fly by the asteroid McAuliffe and Comet
West-Kohoutek-Ikemura in a demonstration of new spacecraft
Telescope viewing of Comet Hale-Bopp will be available from
7:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the lawn west of Beckman Institute at the
southeast corner of Lura Street at Wilson Avenue in Pasadena. In
the event of rain or thick cloud cover, telescopes will not be
available. The panel discussion will begin at 9 p.m. at
Caltech's Beckman Auditorium, located on Michigan Avenue one
block south of Del Mar Boulevard. Doors to Beckman will open at
8 p.m., and those attending the panel discussion must be seated
by 8:45 p.m.
"Comet Chasers: On the Trail of a Comet" is sponsored by
JPL's Galileo and Stardust projects. JPL manages the Galileo
mission for NASA's Office of Space Science. Stardust is a
partnership between JPL, the University of Washington and
Lockheed Martin Astronautics.
A live simulcast of the panel discussion will be available
over the Internet via CuSeeMe. Information on how to connect
will be available on the Comet Hale-Bopp home page at
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/comet or http://galileo.ivv.nasa.gov/comet.
Additional information on Comet Hale-Bopp is at
http://encke.jpl.nasa.gov. Information on the Stardust mission
is at http://pdcsrva.jpl.nasa.gov/stardust/home.html.
Information on the Galileo mission is at