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NASA Plans Comet Hale-Bopp Observing Campaign, Activities

Don Savage/Doug Isbell
Headquarters, Washington, DC                  March 13, 1997
(Phone:  202/358-1547)

Jim Sahli
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD
(Phone:  301/286-0697)

Diane Ainsworth/Jane Platt
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA
(Phone:  818/354-5011)

Keith Koehler
Wallops Flight Facility, VA
(Phone:  757/824-1579)



       As the orbit of Comet Hale-Bopp (C/1995 O1) brings it 
closer to the Sun in late March, NASA and agency-supported 
scientists will study the large and bright comet using sounding 
rockets, spacecraft and ground-based observations.  Using NASA's 
Hubble Space Telescope, Hale-Bopp's nucleus was measured at 
roughly three to four times larger than that of comet Halley (six 
miles in diameter), making it one of the largest comets ever 
observed.  Researchers are studying Hale-Bopp to better understand 
comets, primitive bodies of loosely-packed ice and dust that many 
scientists consider the best-preserved remnants of the early Solar 

       Other agency activities, including a media day for coverage 
of the sounding rocket launches, and special Internet home pages 
for posting images obtained by NASA missions as well as amateur 
astronomers, are outlined below with points of contact and other 
relevant information.

Sounding Rocket Campaign

       The Wallops Flight Facility (WFF), Wallops Island, VA, will 
conduct four sounding rocket launches starting March 24 through 
April 5.  The missions will be launched for NASA by the U.S. Navy 
at the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), NM.  The payloads, 
launched on two-stage Black-Brant IX rockets, will observe the 
comet in the ultraviolet wavelengths of light for about five 
minutes before returning to Earth.  The payloads will be recovered 
following a parachute descent at White Sands.  Images of the 
sounding rocket activity at WSMR will be posted to the Internet 
at:  http://www.wff.nasa.gov/~web/comet.html

       WFF and WSMR will host a media day at White Sands Missile 
Range from noon to 4 p.m. MST, March 24.  Dr. Alan Hale, co-
discoverer of the comet, will be at the site to speak to reporters.
Media also are invited to cover the 8:15 p.m. MST launch.  For clearance
to visit White Sands, call the White Sands Public Affairs Office 
(PAO) at 505/678-1134.  For more information on the sounding 
rocket campaign, call WFF PAO at 757/824-1579.

Ulysses spacecraft

      The joint NASA/European Space Agency Ulysses spacecraft, now 
in solar orbit, will study what happens to comets as they are 
exposed to different solar wind conditions at various solar 
latitudes.  Hale-Bopp is about to enter the Sun's lower latitude 
zone, where solar wind (a continuous outflow of charged particles 
streaming from the Sun in all directions at a million miles per 
hour) is disturbed compared with the equatorial regions.  Dramatic 
changes in the comet's plasma tail are expected to occur at these 
lower celestial latitudes.

       A related observing program, called "Ulysses Comet Watch," 
a collaboration between the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), 
Pasadena, CA, and the University of Colorado, will provide images 
from more than 200 amateur observers around the world.  These 
images will be posted on the Ulysses Comet Watch home page on the 
Internet at http://lasp.colorado.edu/ucw/index.html.  Observations 
will continue to be posted after the comet makes its closest 
approach to the Sun on April 1. 

Hubble Space Telescope

        NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has made a series of 
observations of the comet, particularly the nucleus, since 
September 1995.  Hubble cannot observe Hale-Bopp during the next 
few months because the comet is too close to the Sun -- Hubble's 
sensitive detectors could be damaged if pointed in that direction.  
The last observation was made on Oct. 18, 1996, and the next 
possible opportunity will be this autumn.

       Dr. Harold Weaver will publish the results of his observations
with Hubble in the March 28 issue of Science magazine.  For more information,
contact the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), Baltimore, MD, at 
410/338-4514.  Images already obtained by Hubble are available 
from the Internet at http://oposite.stsci.edu/pubinfo/PR/95/41.html

Other NASA Comet Investigations

       NASA's Polar spacecraft will make observations of Hale-Bopp 
using ultraviolet and visible imaging instruments.  For more 
information call the Goddard Space Flight Center, PAO, Greenbelt, 
MD, at 301/286-0697.  Images obtained by Polar will be posted to 
the Internet site at:  
Scientists have been using NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility, 
Mauna Kea, HI, to observe Hale-Bopp in the infrared region of the 
spectrum. Their observations will be made through Hale-Bopp's 
perihelion and continue until summer.  For more information call 
NASA Headquarters at 202/358-1547.

       NASA also will fly a mid-deck experiment on the Space 
Shuttle Discovery's STS-85 mission in July.  The experiment is the 
Southwest Ultraviolet Imaging System, designed to complement the 
capabilities of the 5-10 minute sounding rocket flights by 
observing the comet more extensively during the Shuttle's 11-day 
mission.  For more information call NASA Headquarters at 202/358-1547.

     In addition, NASA and the National Science Foundation are 
collaborating on ground-based observations and analyses of Hale-
Bopp.  For information, contact NASA Headquarters at 202/358-1547.

JPL "Comet Chasers: On the Trail of a Comet" Public Event

       JPL will host a public event called "Comet Chasers: On the 
Trail of a Comet" on Friday, April 11, at JPL.  The event is co-
sponsored by the Galileo and Stardust projects.  Galileo, which is 
touring the Jovian system, observed the 1994 Comet Shoemaker-Levy 
9 impact on Jupiter.  Stardust will launch in 1999, capture 
samples of comet dust from the Comet Wild-2 and return them to 
Earth for study.  Activities will include a comet viewing session 
(weather permitting), and a round-table discussion of the study of 
comets and NASA's role in comet studies, featuring David Levy, co-
discoverer of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, Dr. Don Yeomans of JPL, and 
Dr. Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp, co-discoverers of Comet Hale-Bopp.  
The panelists also will discuss NASA's Stardust mission to Comet 
Wild-2 in 2004.  For more information, call 818/354-5011.

Web Sites, Images, Information and Experts

       In addition to the Internet sites already listed, the JPL 
Hale-Bopp Home Page is a comprehensive information and image 
resource, including many images taken by amateur observers.  The 
address is:  http://newproducts.jpl.nasa.gov/comet/
A mirror site is:  http://galileo.ivv.nasa.gov/comet

       Other images and information and links will be posted at 
the Today@NASA home page:  

     Amateur astronomers who have images of Hale-Bopp in 
electronic file format are invited to post their pictures to a 
NASA web page at URL:  http://comet.hq.nasa.gov/
Prior to posting, one must first register following the prompts on 
that page.

       Comet researchers are available for interviews, both in 
person and via satellite, at NASA Headquarters as well as GSFC, 
WFF, JPL and STScI and other Centers.  Contact the respective 
Public Affairs Offices for further information.