Friday, July 22, 2011

Comet Hale-Bopp

Comet Hale-Bopp was discovered on July 23, 1995 by two independent amateur astronomers, Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp, both from the US (New Mexico and Arizona, respectively). It was still a great distance from the sun when it was discovered, and apparently holds the current record for furthest comet from the sun discovered by amateur astronomers, according to the Wikipedia entry on the comet.

Comet Hale-Bopp became quite spectacular in the night sky during the early months of 1997. At that time, I was deployed to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California (one of many times). I distinctly remember walking out late one night to catch a couple hours of sleep on the hood of my HMMWV (I was a battalion supply officer at the time, and thus was not sleeping out on the ground with a line company the way you do when you are a platoon leader, company commander, or company executive officer) and seeing the gorgeous comet hanging high in the night sky over the desert. I said out loud, "That has to be a comet!" (I was alone in a remote logistics point; there was no one else around to hear me).

Amazing as it may seem, I had not heard of the impending arrival of the comet, having been consumed in the prior months with uploading a battalion's worth of Bradley Fighting Vehicles and other large equipment for the deployment, which was a fairly unusual deployment in that we were taking special "Force XXI" vehicles to the desert for full-speed maneuver testing. Also, the internet at that time was nothing like the internet and web of today, and was not something I was regularly visiting, especially during the full-time activity of being a Battalion S4 in the Force XXI Brigade preparing for an NTC rotation.

After various "battles" and training exercises, members of the leadership of the task force and Brigade Combat Team would regularly report to portable trailers that would be moved about in the desert and hooked up to generators, where we could review the successes and failures and discuss them in a formal "after-action review" (AAR), and at the beginning of these, the observer-controllers from NTC would often put together a short video clip of the news that was taking place in the outside world. Shortly after the night on which I noticed the comet for the first time, we were horrified to learn in one of these AAR clips about the mass suicide of the Heaven's Gate cult members, who believed they were leaving the earth to join a spacecraft which they thought was trailing the Hale-Bopp comet.

The origins of comets are a great mystery, and the conventional theories for their origin are fraught with problems, as hydroplate theory author and West Point graduate Walt Brown explains in this section of his website. For one thing, comets tend to be "swept" out of solar orbit by the massive planets of Saturn and especially Jupiter over the centuries (either sucked into those planets or ejected right out of the solar system by the slingshot effect of Jupiter's tremendous gravity), and if comets we see today have really been in action for billions of years, many of them would likely have been swept up long ago. Based on some calculations, comets are either being resupplied by some unknown activity, or their current numbers suggest that they originated less than 12,000 years ago.

Another problem Dr. Brown discusses is the fact that most near-parabolic comets falling toward the sun appear to be doing so for the first time ever. Dr. Brown discusses the evidence for this observation, which involves the speeds of comets and the number of comets that fall into categories of different speeds (see discussion and diagram labeled Figure 155 on this page).

In order to try to explain these problematic features of the comets we find in our solar system, astronomers invented a speculative solution known as the Oort Cloud, a hypothetical cloud of dust at some distance outside the solar system from which comets must be ejected by the perturbations caused by other stars in the galaxy. This solution has several problems, including the fact that it has difficulty explaining short-period comets, whose orbits do not go past Jupiter at their furthest point (aphelion).

As with so many other difficulties of geology, the hydroplate theory explains the origins of comets quite satisfactorily. In fact, Dr. Brown demonstrates that almost all of the characteristics of comets are consistent with the theory that they originated from the violent ejection of massive amounts of water on earth at the initiation of the cataclysmic flood event, within 12,000 years ago.

Comets are just another data point which seem to indicate the accuracy of the hydroplate theory versus its competitors. The Mathisen Corollary book examines the ways in which this innovative geological theory may also explain many mysteries of mankind's ancient past as well.

The image above shows Comet Hale-Bopp in April of 1997, above the desert of California's Death Valley, very close to the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, California, where I was when I first noticed it.