by Michael Lindemann
Copyright CNI News 1996
(December 16, 1996) -- It has now been a full month since Houston amateur astronomer Chuck Shramek took his much-vilified images of a possible second object near Comet Hale-Bopp. In the past week or so a new photo, alleged to have come from the Hubble telescope, began circulating. This new image can be seen at Whitley Strieber's web site (www.strieber.com/ufonews/hale3.html), alongside Shramek's shot and several others. And guess what? The Hubble shot -- if indeed it is that -- looks almost exactly like Shramek's, with the difference that in Shramek's the "companion" is located at about 3 o'clock to the comet, whereas in the "Hubble" shot it's at about 11:30. In both cases, the object is very bright and displays a single pair of what some have called "diffraction spikes," for which Shramek's image became known as the "Saturn-like object." Against a field of stars elongated by time exposure, the "companion" in both shots seems NOT elongated and thus apparently may be near the comet and moving with it, or similarly to it.
"Apparently" is an important word here. We at CNI News profess no expertise in the analysis of comets or other things celestial. We assume the sky can fool us, even as mundane things down here nearer the earth also fool us now and then. We honestly do not know what to make of the Hale-Bopp photos. During the last four weeks, the over-heated rhetoric on late night radio and the internet has not, we think, moved us any closer to a true understanding of the Hale-Bopp situation. But, broadly speaking, there seem to be three main possibilities.
1) The first is that there is no companion at all, and the "apparently" close object has been misinterpreted. This is the position so far taken by astronomer Alan Hale and all the other mainstream scientists who have spoken on the record.
Respected researcher Linda Moulton Howe has interviewed at least eight astronomers within the last four weeks on the subject of Hale-Bopp. All of them have spent considerable time viewing the comet and are also aware of the controversial photos. Without exception, Howe says, these experts say the comet shows no sign of a companion, and the photos show normal celestial objects that can be identified from star charts. Among those that Howe has interviewed -- four of whom she has presented during her weekly slot on Art Bell's "Dreamland" radio program -- are Dr. Karen Meech, Ph.D., Professor of Astronomy at the University of Hawaii and an expert in the use of the largest telescopic CCD camera in the world; Dr. Michael Mumma, Ph.D., Chief Scientist in Extraterrestrial Planetary Physics at the NASA Goddard Laboratory in Maryland, who is currently using an infrared camera in Hawaii to conduct spectrographic analysis of Hale-Bopp's gas content; Dr. Martha Hanner, Ph.D., a senior research scientist and comet specialist at JPL in Pasadena, California, who has also done extensive spectrographic analysis of Hale-Bopp; David Schleicher, astronomer and comet scientist at Lowell Observatory in Arizona; Brian Skiff, another astronomer at Lowell Observatory; Daniel Green and Brian Marsden at Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; and Harold Weaver, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland who has concentrated on studying Hale-Bopp. Based on extensive discussions with all these experts, Linda Howe concludes that there is at present no reliable evidence of a companion object.
But others, of course, disagree, notably author Whitley Strieber and remote viewers Courtney Brown and Prudence Calabrese at the Farsight Institute.
On his own web site, Strieber declares: "I don't think that there is much real doubt that Hale-Bopp has a companion, despite the fact that the astronomical community is inexplicably denying the reality of an object that many observatories and the Hubble Space Telescope appear to have been aware of for months. I have known this for certain ever since I saw [an] image posted by the Japanese National Observatory... and I am troubled that so many astronomers have ignored this inescapable fact even though the most rudimentary professional observation reveals without any ambiguity that the object pictured beside the comet is precisely what the Japanese first claimed: an anomaly that is traveling with it."
In a note posted to the internet on December 2, Junichi Watanabe, Public Information Officer at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, explained their interpretation of the so-called anomaly. "Yes, we have an anomalous object in 1996 Hale-Bopp photo," he wrote. "But it is just the artificial one we often have, where the saturated star caused the electronic trick when the electrons were transfered from the CCD [imaging device]... we can say that it is definitely a star."
Strieber knows that this is the official Japanese position on the anomaly -- "definitely a star." But this apparently does not alter his view on the "companion."
Similarly, Prudence Calabrese of the Farsight Institute stated again on December 12, as she has several times previously, her personal conviction that there is a second object, albeit with some question as to its nature. "There has been a companion object to the Hale-Bopp comet," she wrote on Farsight's web site message board. "Whether the companion is fixed or whether it comes and goes, I do not know, and really cannot even speculate. Whether the object will stay with the comet and visit the earth is something else I do not know." But concerning the basic question of the object itself, it appears she has no doubt.
A number of amateur observers, besides Chuck Shramek, have added to the argument in favor of a second object. For example, CNI News recently received a log of observations from Robert Collins in Colorado, which reads as follows:
"Dec 1st: I went out tonight Dec 1st, 96' to find Hale Bopp and I found it at two observing points south on 115 from Col Springs. At this point I wished I hadn't sold my telescope: At [about] 6 PM MST I observed the comet through binoculars from observation site 1 north of Penrose. In the field of view I saw the fuzzy comet and a bright object to the upper left of the comet. I couldn't tell whether this object was a star etc, but the object flickered more than the surrounding stars. 15 mins later I was at observation point two on the Ft Carson riding range. From there the bright object was gone.
"Dec 10th: Checked tonight from 5:50 PM to 6:06 PM MST and no object etc: Visibility was very good at 6000 +ft and you could easily make out the corona around comet using binoculars.
"Dec 11th: Well, saw what appeared to be the object tonight from 6 to 6:30 PM MST: It stuck close to the back outer Corona of Hale Bopp for the 30 mins I watched it. It on occasion twinkled and disappeared only to reappear in the same position relative to the comet. Comet got too close to the horizon so I had to quit. Now, if it was easy for me anybody should be able to observe this Comet until it fades from sight in the latter part of December.
"Dec 12th: Star like object is now just below the Comet: [about] 6PM MST: Had same relative brightness as last night's Dec 11th sighting except now it is in front. No other "stars" in vicinity.
"Note: Both on Dec 11th and 12th 1996 the closest star to Hale Bopp was a 6th magnitude star according to the Sky & Telescope 1996 star map for the Comet. Both the Comet & Object had an estimated magnitude of ~4 to 4.5: And, the 6th mag star was not close to where I saw the "Star Like Object." Also, it can't be pointed at like Chuck Shramek because there was no CCD array to supposedly blow a 9th, 6th etc magnitude star into a 4th or 4.5 magnitude object.
"Dec 13th: No object sighted. 6:10 PM MST: Using binoculars HB Comet had a highly visible Coma and Corona."
This observer, like some others, indicates that the mystery object does seem to "come and go" -- unexpected behavior for known celestial objects. The "coming and going" of the alleged companion explains, for some, the seeming failure of mainstream astronomers to see the object at all -- they simply weren't looking at the right time. It also fuels speculation that the object is not altogether natural.
Thus, despite unanimous denials from the mainstream, we must consider the possibility of a "companion." The second of our three possibilities is:
2) There is a companion -- perhaps even more than one -- of entirely natural origin. Large comets can break up into several pieces as they pass near planets or approach the sun. We saw this occur most impressively in mid-1994 when Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smacked into Jupiter, not once but many times. The comet had previously broken up under the influence of Jupiter's gravity and had become "a string of pearls" -- many pieces traveling in a cosmic parade. Could this happen to Hale-Bopp? According to the astronomers Linda Howe has talked to, it certainly can -- and they are looking for signs that it has. So far, they say, there is no indication of any breaking up.
But if Hale-Bopp were in more than one piece, how would it look to us here on earth? If we were viewing the "front of the train," so to speak, we might catch only occasional glimpses of the trailing pieces, even if they were a lot bigger than the lead piece. However, with respect to the aforementioned photos, there is a slight problem with this theory. The "companion," if a piece of the comet, should behave like the comet, and that means it should by now have a substantial corona of its own. But it doesn't. So, maybe it's not a piece of the comet. Could it be any other kind of natural object? That gets us into more problematical territory. Comets are basically globs of ice and dust. Asteroids and meteors, on the other hand, are made largely of rock and/or iron. Comets glow a lot as they near the sun. Asteroids and meteors do not. To our knowledge, there is no known instance of an asteroid or meteor traveling along with a comet -- but even if there were, it is hard to imagine why such an object would have the luminosity exhibited in the photos. So, the idea of a natural "companion" has weaknesses. Which brings us to the third possibility.
3) There is a companion of "unnatural" -- i.e. artificial -- origin. In short, this is the spacecraft theory. On its face, of course, this is wildly improbable. But if something is really there, and that something cannot be easily explained as natural, then we seem to be left with this option. Once this logic is accepted, all manner of incredible speculation ensues -- of the very kind that has been overheating the late-night airwaves during the past four weeks.
It must be pointed out that not one single reputable scientist has spoken on the record in favor of the companion. According to the Farsight Institute, at least one, and perhaps several, top scientists have privately confessed their awareness of the object, even alluding to its possible artificial nature. Hopes were greatly raised over two weeks ago when Farsight's Courtney Brown and Prudence Calabrese announced on Art Bell's "Coast to Coast" radio show that a "world-class" astronomer at a "top 10 university" was on the verge of coming forward with proof of the companion. He had provided photos to the Farsight Institute, photos which had been passed along to Art Bell and Whitley Strieber, but which would otherwise remain sequestered while the mystery astronomer got his affairs in order. This person remains nameless up to this moment (December 16).
Similarly, rumors have circulated that astronomers at the Greenwich Observatory, Kit Peak and Lick Observatories, among others, are all aware of the companion and may come forward. But still, we have not heard a single name -- only the assurances of alleged insiders.
A few days ago, Art Bell dropped another bomb into the fray, reading over the air a letter received from a self-proclaimed priest formerly employed by the Vatican -- in churchly "Black Ops" no less -- who says he hacked into the Papal Mainframe to discover files labeled "Wormwood?" and referencing the coming comet as a harbinger of Great Tribulation. This letter, posted at Art Bell's web site (www.artbell.com), reads much like a cheap detective novel and offers precious little opportunity to verify the author's pedigree. And it is only the latest in a growing stack of dubious "information" about the companion-as-spacecraft -- psychic readings, remote viewings, pronouncements from mystery astronomers -- none of which, we confess, inspire us with much confidence.
Still, we cannot entirely dismiss the possibility that there is Something out there besides the comet. And if that is true, then it is by now most certainly known or at least suspected by various professionals within the astronomical community. That is, the "mystery astronomer(s)" could very well be real, could very well be "reducing their data" as we speak...
And of course, they could also be somehow beholden to some Deeper Agenda, entwined within some convoluted interpretation of the National Security...
But even if that were true, it should also be true that anyone with a decent amateur telescope could, before long, establish beyond reasonable doubt that the "companion" does exist -- if it does exist.
And so, with Hale-Bopp getting closer every day, and with thousands of telescopes watching it around the world, we at CNI News hold out hope for a resolution to this mystery before long. We'll report new developments whenever they occur.
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