Observer: Mack Frost
Location: Eagle Pass, Cody, Wyoming
Date: February 6, 1997 12:30, 13:10 UT
Back in the depths of late winter and before the heady days of photographic plenty in March and April, I had opportunity to photograph Hale-Bopp in the early morning hours just before dawn. Hale-Bopp still had not come into its glory, but it was bigger and brighter than Halley's Comet a decade earlier. I had taken some preliminary photos along with Dewey Vanderhoff and Andy Frazier around the 1st of February, but I wanted to get some better shots. So, on the morning of February 6th, I packed up my equipment and headed out alone to our favorite observing site east of Cody, WY: Eagle Pass, a low ridge in the middle of the flats of the Big Horn Basin between Cody and Greybull. It provides a very low horizon in all directions and is out from under the city lights with extremely dark skies. I was also lucky that there was only a very light breeze that morning, as the wind can be prodigious at times at this location.
I arrived on site just as Hale-Bopp was topping the horizon, about 3:30am, and got my telescope set up without difficulty. For the next two hours, I took a variety of timed exposures using the scope to guide my camera and lens. I did not yet have access to a supply of my favorite astrophoto film, Fuji 800 Super G Plus, so used Fuji 400 Super G Plus for this session. It's not anywhere near as sensitive to low level light as the 800, but it suffices.
The wider of the two photos shows Hale-Bopp just within the confines of the Summer Triangle, with the Northern Reaches of the Milky Way galaxy showing dimly in the background. This shot was taken at 5:30am/MST with a 35mm lens set at f2.8, exposed for ten minutes. The other photo centers on the constellation Cygnus, with H-B in the lower right corner. It was taken at 6:10am, as dawn was starting to color the sky, using a 50mm lens set at f2.8 and exposed for four minutes.
It's amazing to see the difference a month or so makes in the appearance of H-B. By the end of February, the comet had greatly increased in brightness, and had started to exhibit an increasingly longer tail with more detail appearing every night. The wonderful images we're currently getting out of Australia and Southern Africa remind me of how the Great Comet of 1997 looked to northern observers back in early February.
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