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Vanderhoff Image of Comet Hale-Bopp

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Observers: Dewey Vanderhoff, Andy Frazier
Location: Cody, Wyoming
Date: April 9, 1997 04:15 UT

Here are the photos, as promised, of the wonderful moving conjunction of the Mir space station and Hale-Bopp on the evening of Tuesday April 8 as seen from a site ten miles east of cody WY at 10:15 PM

My friend Andy Frazier and myself had set up at Eagle Pass shortly after 8 PM to view the first of two visible illuminated passes of MIR that evening, where the 100-ton station and its newly docked Progress M-35 supply ship waltzed over us to the north at an elevation of 65.3 degrees.

Then we waited and comet watched and took in the conjunction of a 39-hour old crescent Moon andthe planet Mercury in the low northwest sky below Hale-Bopp. Ninety minutes after the first pass, MIR came around again...it was still illuminated some two hours after local sunset. At the time it was passing over eastern Washington state, the Idaho panhandle, and on up into British Columbia and Alberta some 535 miles distant when these images were taken.

Although still illuminated by the Sun, the phase angle and distance to MIR were such that it seemed to be a fast moving magnitude 4 or 5 star. However, we had no trouble locking in on it.

I use two valuable little shareware programs to determine MIR's location and time of appearance. The first is OrbitTak 2.1.5 from BEK Developers of Florida (for Macintosh... $10.00... download at www.shareware.com ) which is an excellent satellite plotting program. I get NASA 2-line orbital elements from various sources, all derived from NASA/Spacecom daily postings to stay current with over 125 satellite's worth of orbital parameters, including MIR. What you end up with is a clean graphic of the night sky from your location and viewing angles, with MIR's orbit laid in and time-ticked for 1-minute intervals. Last night It showed the comet going by Hale-Bopp's nucleus at a distance of roughly one-half a degree, and by the gods that's exactly what it did at the appointed moment!

The photo says it all. The first is a "normal" view of the scene with landscape, looking back west towards Cody Wy from Eagle Pass some ten miles distant. The second inage is cropped and histogram-enhanced in Photoshop 3.0.5 to emphasize the MIR trail.

The third image, "...Two Mercurys..." is a tongue-in-cheek thing. We also observed and photographed the lovely conjunction of Mercury and the new crescent Moon. Andy drives a Mercury Villager minivan, so it seemed like the metaphorical thing to do to photograph a "Two Mercury" starscape.

I lit his van with a high-powered Krypton bulb flashlight filtered to approximate daylight with a blue 80-B photographer's studio gel. I took meter reading off his running lights and the flashlight beam to develop an exposure for "painting" in the vehicle.

The scene was photograhed for 40 seconds at f/ 2.8 on Fuji Super G 800 film using a Nikon F2AS camera with a Nikkor 35mm f/ 2.0 lens The car got four seconds of exposure from the flashlight from 100 feet away, and I had Andy click on his lights for one second to add that illumination. The point of light off his front bumper is a car on distant US highway 14-16-20 coming from Cody , whose urban light pollution is visible in the distance.

It is remarkable enough to be able to use my Macintosh technology to predict the various apparitions of MIR , LANDSAT, the Shuttle et ux , which I've been doing for about six months now. But this orbital serendipity of MIR traversing the Comet'Head is magical. It then becomes just a case of applying the Old Photographer's Axiom for getting a great photo , to wit :

"F/ 2.8 and Be There !

Dewey Vanderhoff
deweyv@trib.com


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