Comet Hale-Bopp and the Total Solar Eclipse of 1997

Excitement is growing around the discovery of a new comet on 1995 July 23. If Comet Hale-Bopp lives up to current expectations, it will be visible to the naked eye during the total solar eclipse of 1997 March 9. The path of this eclipse runs through Mongolia and eastern Siberia and has a center line duration of more than two minutes. The Sun will be low in the sky along the entire track, never climbing higher than 23°.

According to IAU Circular No. 6202, the predicted magnitude of Comet Hale-Bopp will be -0.9 on 1997 March 3 and -1.4 on 1997 March 13. These magnitude estimates are based on the comet's current brightness, a pre-discovery photograph from 1993 April, and the assumption that the comet is not exhibiting any uncharacteristic outbursts. If these assumptions hold true, Hale-Bopp will shine at magnitude -1.2 during the total eclipse, making it an easy naked eye object. At that time, Hale Bopp will be north of Pegasus in Lacerta, some 46° from the Sun. For an observer on the center line north of Ulaanbaatar, the Sun will have an altitude of 12 ° and an azimuth of 112°. Comet Hale-Bopp will be conveniently located with an altitude of 55° and an azimuth of 89°.

The visibility of a comet during a total solar eclipse is quite a rare event and has only happened four times in the last century or so. Previous eclipse comets were observed in 1882, 1893, 1948 and 1963. Thus, the 1997 eclipse holds the promise of an especially unique and rare opportunity.

It should be emphasized that the above magnitude predictions for Comet Hale-Bopp are only educated 'guesstimates' based on the comet's current brightness and behavior. Due to the unpredictable nature of comet activity, it is impossible to accurately predict the brightness of a comet 18 months in advance. Nevertheless, Comet Hale-Bopp currently holds great promise in becoming the brightest comet seen in several decades.

Complete details for the Total Solar Eclipse of 1997 March 9 are available in NASA Reference Publication 1369.

Last updated: 1995 September 22 - Fred Espenak, NASA/GSFC

A bulletin on the appearance of Hale-Bopp, 1997 February 26

Hale-Bopp is getting brighter and even the nucleus is starshaped and has a density of 8. This makes it for sure that it will be visible during totality of the upcoming eclipse of March 9.

Herewith my latest observations:

C/1996 01 Hale-Bopp

DATE   [U.T.]   mv   Aper  Type  F/   DC COMA TAIL
1997 02 10.229  2.2  NE               8       
1997 02 11.229  2.2  NE               8            
1997 02 15.208  1.8  NE               8
                     10x50 B     5    8       3=B0 "U" shaped
                     C90   C     11  
1997 02 19.229  1.4  NE               8
                     10x50 B     5    8
                     C90   C     11           5=B0 "U"shaped, double with outburst
1997 02 20.236  1.4  NE               8       FM at 180=B0
1997 02 26.222  1.0  NE               8
                     10x50 B     5    8
                     C90   C     11           5=B0 "U" shaped, double tail with outburst.
                                              Moon behind clouds at approx. 150=B0

I am leaving for Mo He Saturday March 1. All the best to everyone.

Best regards,


Last updated: 1997 February 26 - Patrick Poitevin, Eclipse Section VVS Belgium