Comet Hale Bopp
Twenty years ago on June 23rd 1995 possibly the most observed comet of the 20th century was discovered. Comet Hale Bopp would go on to become a comet everyone knew about. The co discoverers Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp were both American astronomers.
When discovered it was about 700 million miles away in between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. At its brightest in early 1997 it was so bright that it could even be seen by people who lived in cities.
In March 1997 there was an eclipse of the Sun visible from China, Mongolia and Siberia; it was even seen then in broad daylight.
It has been calculated that the comet last visited the Earth in 2315 BC. It would have been as bright then, sadly no observations exists to confirm this. Its next return will be around 4385 AD.
Comets have always had a reputation for being the bringers of fear and doom. With Hale Bopp some people believed there was a UFO following it. On March 26, 1997, police in California discovered the bodies of 39 members of the Heavens Gate group who had committed mass suicide in order to reach what they believed was that alien space craft following the comet.
The nucleus or centre of the comet was about 50 miles across. Hale Bopp attracted so much interest and was so widely followed by the press that it had a much greater impact on the general public than the return of Halley’s Comet in 1986. It’s believed that over 80% of all Americans saw the comet!