Comet Hale-Bopp was observed by millions in 1997. This page is a loose collection of my personal observations of this remarkable object. I have included raw observational data and links to my sketches of Hale-Bopp.

by Wes Stone

Comet Hale-Bopp was discovered in July, 1995, and gradually brightened to become a prominent object in the night sky. The comet reached perihelion (closest approach to the sun) on April 1, 1997. It is now moving away from the Sun and Earth, and has been fading and moving southward since. The comet is no longer visible to the naked eye, and is only accessible to Southern Hemisphere observers.


My first views of Hale-Bopp did not come until May, 1996. By this time, Comet Hyakutake had come and gone, the most magnificent celestial sight of my life. Great things were predicted for Hale-Bopp, and it seemed to be doing fairly well at this time, approaching naked-eye brightness in the unpolluted skies of Southern Oregon.

1996 May 25-26, sketches with 60mm refractor telescope

1996 May 24, 9:00 UT: I spied Comet Hale-Bopp for the first time. The comet was an elongated blur with a hint of a tail, and was easily visible in my 60mm refractor and even in 7x35 binoculars. I could make out a nearly stellar nucleus, especially with medium to high powers, and saw some asymmetry in the outer coma region.

1996 May 25: Hale-Bopp appeared brighter this morning. An out-of-focus magnitude estimate with 7x35 binoculars gave its brightness as magnitude 6.8. There was a wealth of detail near the limit of my eyes and telescope.

1996 May 26: I again observed Hale-Bopp; its brightness was similar to the previous night.


1996 June 12: Observations with an 11-inch SCT in light polluted skies showed some complex detail. At times I thought I saw a central spine or ion tail, but actually all of the extensions were part of a large dust fan associated with the coma.

1996 July 11: Observing from Gladstone, Oregon with a limiting magnitude of about 5.5, Comet Hale-Bopp was easy in 7x35 binoculars. My magnitude estimate for this comet is 6.1, and it should be a fairly easy naked eye object from a dark location. In a 60mm refractor, Hale-Bopp was impressive, and its shape at 36x was similar to that of the open cluster M11. A stellar nucleus was visible at both 36x and 79x.

1996 July 12: Observations from Larch Mountain, limiting magnitude 6.3. Hale-Bopp's northward pointing fan of a coma seemed to be more symmetrical and spread out than before. A stellar nucleus was visible at all magnifications, situated on the south side of the coma. At times, I thought I glimpsed the actual tail, pointing to the SSW. The comet was readily visible in binoculars and could be seen with the naked eye using averted vision. I estimated its total magnitude at 6.0.

1996 August 7, Sketch with 8-inch telescope

1996 August 7: Observations from James H. Karle Observatory, Portland. Comet Hale-Bopp was very close to Tau Ophiuchi, and was an attractive telescopic sight.

1996 August 11, Sketch with 7x35 binoculars

1996 August 11: Observations from White River Canyon, limiting magnitude 6.5. Comet Hale-Bopp was visible to the naked eye at magnitude 5.8; 7x35 binoculars revealed the fan-shaped coma, central condensation, and a nice little tail to the SE.

1996 August 17: Observations from Oregon Star Party. Hale-Bopp was in a rather poor area of the sky; magnitude was still around 5.8. Its tail was about the same as at Mt. Hood on August 11.


Hale-Bopp was well-placed in the evening sky through November, though the weather didn't always cooperate. It continued brightening, though at times it seemed to stall a bit.

1996 September 26: Observations from James H. Karle Observatory, Portland. During the total lunar eclipse, Hale-Bopp was easily visible in 7x35 binoculars, but Portland's light pollution took its toll. No tail was visible.

1996 October 9: Multiple sketches of Hale-Bopp and Tabur

1996 October 9: Observations from White River Canyon, limiting magnitude 6.7. Comet Hale-Bopp was easily visible to the naked eye at magnitude 5.4, and showed a two-branched tail of about 4 degrees in binoculars. The coma seems much more symmetrical now than it was earlier in the year, and the central condensation was a bit muted. In a 60mm refractor at 79x, jet detail was visible in the coma.

At this point I made a couple of CCD images of Hale-Bopp. So did Chuck Shramek, who got his fifteen minutes of fame and lifetime of infamy by claiming to have imaged a UFO following the comet.

1996 November 2: CCD Image

1996 November 9: CCD Image

1996 December 17: Observations from James H. Karle Observatory, Portland. At about 1:30 UT (5:30pm PST), I found Hale-Bopp sitting just above the treeline. It was easily visible as a smudge in an 8x50 finder, even though the sky was bright. I made a magnitude estimate; the comet is around magnitude 4.0, probably a little brighter due to the effects of atmospheric extinction at its low altitude. I observed the comet in a C8, and made a sketch of its appearance.

1996 December 17: Sketch with 8-inch telescope


After briefly disappearing in twilight, Hale-Bopp appeared in the morning sky in early 1997. Many of us became increasingly worried that it would not live up to its billing, as it didn't seem to be brightening enough. Comets are unpredictable, though, and Hale-Bopp experienced a surge in activity during February and March that made it a great comet instead of an unfulfilled hype.

This is the way I saw it:

1997 January 12, 13: On the mornings of January 12 and January 13, I observed Hale-Bopp from Springwater Road near Estacada. The comet is about magnitude 3.0 and easily visible to the naked eye, with little discernible shape. In 7x35 binoculars, a short tail with two distinct branches was seen. The brighter portion extended northward, and the longer, fainter part was more westerly. In a 60mm refractor at 36x, there was a stellar central condensation within a very bright, teardrop-shaped coma with the narrow part toward the bright portion of the tail.

1997 January 12: Sketch with 60mm refractor telescope

The wind was a killer on Sunday (1/12), and the seeing was poor as well. Monday morning, the wind had relented, and the limiting magnitude in Cygnus north of the comet was 6.0. The seeing was still pretty bad. The view was much the same as on Sunday, but I thought I saw more of the fainter tail branch in binoculars, maybe up to 8 degrees.

1997 January 14:

Location: Gladstone, OR
Time: 6:00-6:40 PST (1400-1440 UT)
Naked Eye Limit Near Comet: ~4


1997 January 14: Sketch with 60mm refractor telescope

Observing from a suburban backyard, I found Hale-Bopp easily with the naked eye. It was more or less a blur. Binoculars showed about 2 degrees of mostly faint tail.

The real treat was the high-power view in my little 2.4" refractor. At 118x, the pseudonucleus was a twinkling, blue-white point, and a pattern of four jets was seen. Two coma extensions were visible, corresponding to branches of the tail seen in binoculars.

1997 January 15:

Location: Gladstone, OR
Time: 5:40-6:20 PST (1340-1420 UT)
Naked Eye Limit Near Comet: ~3.5

1997 January 15, 14:15 UT: Sketch with 60mm refractor @ 118x

Again observing from a suburban backyard, with transparency a bit worse than 1/14 and seeing quite good considering the comet's low altitude.

The comet was still easy with the naked eye, though not quite as prominent as 1/14. Reports from other observers suggest this "dimming" was due to the local sky conditions and not an intrinsic change in the comet.

The comet's inner regions continue to be fascinating in a small telescope at high power. Four jets were again observed near the stellar pseudonucleus, one of them a bright sunward spike. A distinct parabolic hood was also seen.

January 23, 1997:

Location: Gladstone, OR
Time: 5:45 PST (1345 UT)
Naked Eye Limit Near Comet: n/a

At 5:45am, I was able to view the comet through a hole in the clouds. The comet appeared to be of about magnitude 2.5 (largely uncertain because of the lack of comparison stars, but brighter than nearby Zeta Aql of mag. 3). The tail, distinguishable only in 7x35 binoculars, appeared shorter (0.5 degrees) and broader than last week. Then the clouds closed in.

1997 January 24:

Location: Gladstone, OR
Time: 5:40-6:20 PST (1340-1420 UT)
Naked Eye Limit Near Comet: ~4.5

Hale-Bopp definitely appeared fainter this morning compared to yesterday morning. The starlike central condensation appeared to be the culprit, as to the naked eye it appeared less prominent within the coma. The total magnitude was about 2.8. 7x35 binocuars showed the same broad, very short tail.

1997 January 24, 14:10 UT: Sketch with 60mm refractor @ 118x

In a 60mm refractor at 79x and 118x, the comet appeared "squashed" due to the strange tail appearance. The inner coma showed one sunward jet, and the pseudonucleus had a slight yellow color.

1997 January 26:

Location: Gladstone, OR
Time: 6:45 PST (1445 UT)
Naked Eye Limit Near Comet: ~3.5

I estimated Hale-Bopp's brightness as magnitude 2.9 with the naked eye. It was just slightly brighter than Zeta Aql and a bit fainter than Gamma Aql. A slight bit of tail was visible to the naked eye. Coma and tail were more parabolic and less squished than on 1/24, as seen through 7x35 binoculars. Observation was shortened by clouds.

1997 February 3:

Location: Gladstone, OR
Time: 6:20 PST (1420 UT)
LM near comet: ~5.0

Skies cleared off for an hour or so. The comet is a bit brighter than before, and high enough to clear local horizon obstructions while sky is relatively dark. I estimated the magnitude as 2.3. The stellar central condensation still dominated the view of the comet, but both a coma and a very short tail were visible to the naked eye with averted vision. 7x35 binoculars showed a very broad tail of about 1 degree in length, as well as a fuzzy extension on the sunward side of the coma. These binoculars also did a good job of framing Hale-Bopp and Sagitta.

1997 February 5:

Location: Gladstone, OR
Time: 5:30 PST (1330 UT)
LM near comet: ~5.5

1997 February 5, 14:10 UT: Sketch with 60mm refractor @ 79x

I estimated the coma as magnitude 2.3. One degree of tail was visible to the naked eye, and this jumped to six degrees in 7x35 binoculars, although the last four degrees were very faint. In a 60mm refractor @ 79x, four jets were seen in the inner coma. Two tail branches were observed, with a pronounced "shadow of the nucleus" and three faint stars in the center of the tail.

1997 February 6:

Location: Goat Mountain, OR
Time: 5:00-6:50 PST (1300-1450 UT)
LM near comet: 6.4

1997 February 6: Sketch with 60mm refractor @ 27x (includes M71)

I estimated the coma magnitude to be 1.8. Part of this apparent increase is obviously due to better sky conditions, but other observers have also reported a surge in brightness over the 24-hour period since my last observation.

I was able to trace the comet's tail with certainty for over 10 degrees. The tail became more difficult when it reached Alpha Vulpeculae, but I thought I could trace it for another 5 degrees with averted vision, both with the naked eye and 7x35 binoculars. The presence of the Milky Way complicates things. The tail was a relatively straight and gradually widening spike.

In a 60mm refractor at 27x, the comet looked a lot like the pictures of Comet West that seem to grace any article about comets. Two distinct tail components were seen: A straight-edged component to the NW that included the ion tail and part of the dust tail, and a broad fan from WNW to WSW that was apparently all dust. This fan was very diffuse, with a hint of internal streamer structure. The ion tail is apparently responsible for the long naked eye tail, and actually Hale-Bopp looked very similar to my views of Comet Hyakutake in early April, 1996. The globular cluster M71 was on the NE edge of the tail, slowly getting swallowed. A faint artificial satellite transited the tail at 5:29:06 PST. Jet detail was similar to yesterday.

By 6:00 PST, there was significant twilight interference, and the observed tail length diminished quickly. The coma, however, remained visible for a long time.

1997 February 10:

Location: Gladstone, OR
Time: 5:20-5:40 PST (1320-13:40 UT)
LM near comet: 4.9

PATHETIC sky conditions, hazy with clouds advancing from the North. I estimated the coma magnitude to be 1.9 after correction for atmospheric extinction. Tail length was 3 degrees to naked eye, 5 degrees in 7x35 binoculars. Telescopically, the view was very similar to Feb. 5, except that there was a very prominent spine in the western portion of the tail and the pseudonucleus seemed to be displaced from the center of the coma in the NE direction.

1997 February 17:

Location: Gladstone, OR
Time: 6:20-6:30 PST (1420-1430UT)
LM near comet: n/a

The clouds broke for a bit during bright twilight, allowing me to get an unexpected view of the comet. It is brighter than ever; magnitude roughly estimated at 1.5. A couple of degrees of dust tail with a bright central spine showed up in 7x35 binoculars. The comet continues to be dominated by a bright, stellar central condensation.

1997 February 20:

Location: Gladstone, OR
Time: 5:20-5:30 PST (1320-1330UT)
LM near comet: n/a

The sky was clear when I went out, but 10 minutes later clouds came from out of nowhere. The comet was very bright, magnitude estimated very tentatively at 1.1 with the naked eye. Tail length was 3 degrees naked eye, 5 degrees in 7x35 binoculars. At 27x in a 60mm refractor, the large jet and fountain structure was seen emanating from the southwest side of the nucleus and flowing up the tail.

1997 February 22:

Location: Gladstone, OR
Time: 5:15-6:40 PST (1315-1440UT)
LM near comet: 4.7

1997 February 22: Sketch with 60mm refractor

Moonlight is beginning to interfere with views of the comet. I estimated the magnitude at 1.3, roughly equal to Deneb with the naked eye. The tail length was 5 degrees both with the naked eye and 7x35 binoculars. The comet was a fascinating sight at all powers in a small telescope; the view was dominated by the huge jet coming from the pseudonucleus and forming a central spine in the tail. Several other jets were seen. The pseudonucleus was twinkling blue and yellow. The "shadow of the nucleus" was very apparent, as was a miniature "shadow" immediately tailward of the main jet.

1997 February 24:

Location: Gladstone, OR
Time: 4:45-6:00 PST (1245-1400UT)
LM near comet: ~5.0

The comet was roughly the same brightness as yesterday; I again estimated its magnitude at 1.3 with the naked eye. The tail length was 4-5 degrees. I spent most of my observing time making this composite drawing showing 1.5 degrees of the tail at low power as well as near-nucleus details at high power.

1997 February 25:

Location: Gladstone, OR
Time: 5:45-6:15 PST (1345-1415UT)
LM near comet: ~5.0

1997 February 25: Composite sketch with 60mm refractor @ 27x,79x,118x

Again, the comet seemed stuck at magnitude 1.3, roughly equal to Deneb with the naked eye. The tail was visible for 4-5 degrees, with perhaps another 5 degrees seen on and off with averted vision. The large jet is still going strong, and a bright but short jet also appeared on the opposite side of the nucleus.

March 8, 1997:

Location: Gladstone, OR
Time: 3:45-6:00 PST (1145-1400UT)
LM near comet: 5.5 at 5:00 PST

I set my "comet alarm" for 3:30 Saturday morning, and woke up to clear sky. I'd almost forgotten what it looked like.

1997 March 8: Sketch of naked-eye impression

The comet has definitely brightened since my last sighting on February 25 (mag. 0.2 vs. 1.3 back then). The tail length visible to the naked eye in mag. 5.5 skies remains about the same, about 5-6 degrees, but the surface brightness of this portion has increased quite a bit. The dust tail seemed dominant, and even with the naked eye the fountain detail could be seen.

1997 March 8: Composite sketch with 60mm refractor

In the 60mm refractor, the comet's near-nucleus features were quite a treat. Several of the hoods mentioned by other observers were visible. Just tailward of the fountain, the dust tail seemed to dim dramatically, then pick up in brightness again, almost like the disconnection events I have seen in the gas tails of several comets. In addition to the fountain, there is still a broad fan of bright material coming out of the south side of the nucleus. The tails seemed to be more narrow and swept back. The gas tail could be followed for about 45' at 27x before it was indistinguishable.

The comet is sliding northward, into the city lights and trees from my location in Gladstone. The surrounding sky was darkest, and the views best, from about 4:30-5:20am, after which twilight interfered. The comet with tail was still prominent at 6:00am despite the bright sky.


The viewing was hit-and-miss for a while. On March 13, I saw the comet for the first time in the evening sky. On March 17, I got a good view of the comet in the morning sky: magnitude -0.3 with 10 degrees of tail and both gas and dust tails prominent. On March 20, I got in a brief morning observation and noted the comet is no longer well-placed for viewing from my location in the morning. About 8 degrees of tail were visible to the naked eye, and the giant fountain was very impressive with my new 8x56 binoculars.

1997 March 20:

Location: Portland, OR
Time: 6:50-8:00pm PST (0250-0400 UT, March 21)
LM near comet: ~5.0

Wow! Great view of comet with naked eye and especially with my new 8x56 binoculars. At first the comet's head glowed weakly in the bright evening twilight, revealing its great fountain only under binocular scrutiny. The tail gradually became more and more visible, until it was a broad fan with the faintest visible parts 8-10 degrees from the nucleus. Subtle yellow and blue coloration was visible in the binoculars, as was the hooklike structure of the main jet and fountain. The comet's nucleus appeared nonstellar at this low magnification, and the comet was pointed toward a faint star. Motion was readily detected over the viewing period. I estimate the coma's magnitude at -0.3.

1997 March 21:

Location: Goat Mountain, OR
Time: 4:00-5:15am PST (1200-1315UT)
LM near comet: 6.3 @ 5:00

Despite moonlight (with a dramatic break for a few minutes before twilight became too troublesome), the comet was an impressive sight. I estimated the coma magnitude as -0.2. For most of the observing period, the tail lengths hovered around 10 degrees. During the moonfree time, the ion tail was visible for 18 degrees and the dust tail for 12. The detail was most impressive in 8x56 binoculars, as the fountain from the nucleus appeared to curve all the way across the dust tail, eventually forminng its northern boundary. A short supplementary tail was visible to the south of the dust tail, and was fan-shaped. The ion tail was a sharp, narrow ray that gradually widened, and the whole object was full of subtle hues. In a 60mm refractor at 79x, five arcs or partial hoods were seen in the coma.

1997 March 23-24:

Location: Near Maupin, OR

I drove to Central Oregon to see the deep partial eclipse. The Moon was up when I got there, and Hale-Bopp was visible by 6:45 with broken high clouds in the foreground. The clouds became invisible and the show was on, with a complete information overload in the sky. The limiting magnitude in Auriga was 6.4 at 7:40 and 6.6 at 8:30. The shadowed portion of the Moon went from dull gray to a reddish rim to a very bloody red with a bright diamond sticking out of it. Mars shone above. The comet took over the sky in the northwest, its gas tail stretching to about 18 degrees and the dust tail to 14. The best feature was the very graceful curve of the dust tail down towards the horizon, while the gas tail was straight and gradually widening. The extreme portions of the tails faded into the Milky Way. M31 was visible to the naked eye 5 degrees away from Hale-Bopp. The colors of the comet were incredible in 8x56 binoculars, with bright blues and yellows dominating the central portions, a very muted gray for the gas tail, and yellow with some orange for the dust tail. New jets, including a fair fountain opposite "Old Faithful" and a short sunward spike, were also visible. A short, wide fan in the first part of the tail and a delicate branch in the gas tail were special views in the binoculars. In a scope, of course, the most interesting feature continues to be the parabolic hoods.

1997 March 23-24: Animated GIF alternates binocular and 60mm refractor sketches

The comet was a graceful brushstroke, not as large as Hyakutake was (a year ago this week!), but just as beautiful in its own way. The coma is smaller and fainter, the gas tail is smaller and fainter but still impressive, and of course Hale-Bopp's great curving dust tail shows that dirty is good when it comes to comets.

1997 March 25:

Location: Portland, OR
Time: 7:15-9:45pm PST (315-545UT, March 26)
LM near comet: Variable, ~5.5

1997 March 26: Sketch of inner coma with 11-inch telescope

I got my first look at Hale-Bopp through Lewis and Clark's scopes since December. Clouds and scheduling had prevented me from getting up there, but tonight worked out despite lots of clouds moving in. A quiet night; maybe 10-15 people showed up. Most were impressed with the telescopic view, with 3 nice bright hoods and the inner one with a clear bridge to the pseudonucleus (spiral structure, just like the famous Hubble picture). Beautiful color in these, pale pinkish-orange with lumpy structure. Tail length limited to about 8-10 degrees, not much of the ion tail visible.

1997 April 5:

Location: Strassel Road near Manning, OR

1997 April 5: Sketch with 8x56 binoculars

Hale-Bopp showed an incredible improvement over suburban views, with both dust and ion tails extending for about 20 degrees and the two tails straddling the Double Cluster. Wonderful color contrast in binoculars, with the ion tail a vivid blue and full of stringy structure. The hoods may be the most interesting high-magnification structure, but the ion tail detail is a WOW for low magnification under dark skies. This tail barely showed structure two weeks ago during the eclipse, but now it has really developed. The dust tail was a graceful, curving brushstroke with a brighter inner core.

1997 April 6:

Location: Near Maupin, OR

Hale-Bopp was similar to the night before; with a couple more degrees visible on both tails. The ion tail showed a dramatic split right as it emerged from the dust tail, then went back together. M34 was just off the tail, resolved in binoculars and seemingly close enough to touch. Awesome! The transparency near the horizons was pretty bad, another irritation for the Messiers. The effect of this extinction on the bright comet nucleus was staggering, reducing its visibility while it was still quite a bit above the horizon. In the a.m., the comet's tail rose, pointing straight up to Cassiopeia. Only the dust tail was visible, and appeared to be very straight and of uniform brightness throughout its length. The dimmest parts were higher in the sky and thus brighter, while the brightest parts were partially extinguished. A unique sight, although the comet is much better in the evening.

1997 April 18:

The comet is still bright, with the head estimated at magnitude -0.2. From suburban sites with light pollution and moonlight, the dust tail is a broad, curving cone some 6-8 degrees long. Interesting fountains are coming out both sides of the central condensation and extending up the tail, as seen in 8x56 binoculars. I have not observed the comet telescopically within the last week.

1997 April 25:

The comet has faded somewhat, to +0.3. The dust tail is broad and well-defined. My main interest was the telescopic view of the inner coma through an 11-inch SCT, which continued to show two spiral arcs as well as copious jet detail.

1997 May 2:

Location: Dorman Pond, OR
Time: 4:30-6:00 UT (9:30-11:00pm PDT, May 1)
LM near comet: Variable, ~6.3 at best

1997 May 2: Sketch of naked-eye impression

I arrived at this Coast Range site to cloudy skies, but by twilight's end it was completely clear. The comet remained at magnitude +0.3. Only the dust tail was visible to the naked eye, and this extended for about 18 degrees. The very faint, gray ion tail could be seen with difficulty in binoculars, extending for over five degrees. Auriga's stars glowed above, and Dorman Pond showed the comet's reflection beautifully, as bats swooped around me. A good night for rural contemplation.

1997 May 13:

Location: Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR
Time: 4:15-5:00 UT (9:15-10:00pm PDT, May 12)
LM near comet: ~3.5 (twilight, light pollution)

The comet looked much like it did in late January in the morning sky; although it is much brighter now, it is much lower in the sky and thus is dimmed. To the naked eye, it was a fuzzy star. Binoculars showed a bright central condensation, fuzzy coma with several jets, and 2 degrees of dust tail.

1997 May 15:

Location: Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR
Time: 4:25-4:40 UT (9:25-9:40pm PDT, May 14)
LM near comet: ~0.5 (haze, twilight, light pollution)

This may be my last observation of the comet. A brownish haze covered most of the NW horizon and made the comet invisible to the naked eye. It was rather easy in 8x56 binoculars, showing a fuzzy coma and sharp central condensation with no tail.


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