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Vanderhoff Image of Comet Hale-Bopp

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Observer: Dewey Vanderhoff
Location: Wyoming
Date: April 21, 1997

Our luck at photographing Hale-Bopp over prominent Wyoming landforms finally went cold --- literally. After driving for two hours thru the mountains over an 8,400 foot pass under clear skies, we entered a climate zone where clouds are born. The objective was to image Hale-Bopp near northwest Wyomng most speactacular peak, the 11,710 foot Pilot Peak rampart, often called the "Matterhorn of the rockies" for its striking resemblance to the Swiss icon. The climate zone ranges from sub-alpine to alpine, and we definitely crossed the boundary ; from Spring back to Winter on the evening before the April full moon.

Snowpack evaporating off the Absaroka Mountains creates copious clouds in the spring. And if any are to be had in Wyoming, Pilot Peak is their nursery since it resides in the center of the vast expanse of the Absaroka-Yellowstone wilderness region where a normal season's snowfall is measured in tens of feet, and the snowpack is 140-180 percent of normal this year. This was a journey back to the Pleistocene Period , as the appearance of many many Moose and other megafauna reminded us.

Nevertheless, we did get a few brief views of Hale-Bopp above our pinnacle in the two hours we waited for the clouds to dissipate ; fleeting seconds worth of comet appearing through otherwise very photogenic cloud formations.

While denied a pristine comet to photograph, the last rays of the crimson sun casting a sharp "Edge of Night" shadow from the edge of Pilot Peak into the sky above our heads was worth the price of admission. Even a "disappointing" night in the Wyoming high country is probably better than the good nights in most metropolitan areas .

Alas, the weather moved in for the next four nights and all of Wyoming temporarily went back to Winter, just as the Full Moon delivered the light we needed to image Hale-Bopp over the best of the northwest Wyoming highlands.

The photo shows a dim Hale-Bopp at the center, under bright Capella and right of ElNath ( Beta Tauri). Nikon camera, 35mm lens , Fuji 800 for 30 seconds at f/2.8 ; taken Monday night April 21 .

Dewey Vanderhoff
deweyv@trib.com


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