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The Sky over Berlin

Comets in the City


The comets are the scapegoats; how much is blamed on their account!
And however, they are so harmless, yes, basically so pitiful fellows,
that I might be allowed here to plead something to the benefit of them,
to tell something about their strange existance, demonstrating, how the
comets are the most intresting celestial bodies in fact, and how they
are partly still somewhat mysterious, but how they are also nevertheless
very light and windy fellows, which are missing very much solidity -
taken the word in the broadest sense.
(Bruno H. Bürgel, Aus fernen Welten, Ullstein 1910)


C/1996 B2 (Hyakutake)

Memories of the Great Comet of 1996

My first comet photo
The promising comet C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp) was awaited by many, then the discovery of another tailed star was announced, which should become visible even earlier and like the eagerly awaited Hale-Bopp it should become visible even within the crowded cities of the northern hemisphere.

The comet was discovered by the (at that time unemployed) Yuji Hyakutake in Japan with a 25x150 binocular at the end of January 1996 at a brightness of 11th magnitude. It was the second discovered comet within five weeks discovered by the same astronomer, where C/1996 B2 was only four degrees or eight diameters of the full moon away from the position of the first discovered comet C/1995 Y1.

Hyakutake at the night sky at Wannsee, March 1996
The hight brightness of C/1996 B2 (Hyakutake) at its peak time was based on the fact that the comet came very close to Earth: about 0.1 astronomical units or ca. 40 times the distance Earth-Moon was between the Earth and the comet at perigaeum. At March 25, 1996 this position was reached. Two days later it was stated to become a clear night in Berlin after a long and cloudy series of nights. The Moon was shortly after the first quarter at that night and set at 2:32h MET at the next day. Until then one had to wait to see the comet ,which was circumpolar these days, in its best glory...

Hyakutake central region with 200mm objective, March 1996
The first four images are from the night from March 27 to 28, 1996. "Hyakutake" had a brightness of 0th to -1 magnitude at that night, which can be estimated by comparing the comet with the also visible Polaris at the first two images. The first picture is really my very first comet photo. It was made near the beach bath Wannsee at around 22h MET. Before that a group of wild boars hat crossed my way on the street leading to the bathing-beach one by one.

For the pictures I used a Pentax Z-20. The first image was done with a f1.7/50mm objective and with a Kodak Color Gold 200 film. For the second image a two times faster film 400 ASA was in the camera, and this was three hours later north of Schwanenwerder at the Wannsee. The moon was already low at that time. The third image was done with a f4-5.6/70-200mm objective and a Kodak Ekatarcolor 1600 another hour later, where the cyan colored coma of the comet is changed to green. This photo was also done at the Wannsee beach, and also this time were wild boars around.

Orion over the Wannsee, March 1996
To see the comet alone with its long tail at the starry forrest sky near the lake was an incredible adventure. Within the morning dawn reaching the end of the Havel chaussee rising fog appeared and the comet and the stars vanished. -

It was incredible luck that taking the pictures were successful. So many things could had gone wrong. Not at least the camera had the small flaw to scratch the negative sometimes and I had only a few weeks of experience before. - After the passage at the zenith the comet moved into Perseus within the following days and became fainter. Photographies from the 31st of March were all went wrong because of the high brightness of the sky and the pictures.

Hyakutake in Perseus, April 1996
At April 14 another series of photos of the great comet of 1996 was made with some success. The brightness of the comet was 2.5 magnitudes then. These images were made with a 400 ASA film with different opening times with the 1.7/50mm-objective, but this time without leaving home. The two pictures were not previously shown before, different to the first three. "Hyakutake" is the bright spot with a hint of a tail south of the distinctive red Algol.

C/1996 B2 (Hyakutake) reached its nearest position to the Sun (Perihelion) at the 1st of May 1996. Then it wasn't visible within the city, anymore. The distance to Earth was about 1.2 astronomical units, "Hyakutake"'s distance to the Sun was 0.23 astronomical units, then. Currently, five years after perihelion it is 15.5 astronomical units away from Earth and about 16.2 astronomical units far from Sun. With this at the ecliptic the comet would be behind Saturn on the half way to Uranus. When it will return is somewhat uncertain, even more whether there will be still a human eye to watch it.

Hyakutake in Perseus, April 1996
For the interest in astronomy normally a key event is the trigger. Although I was old enough in 1976 when the comet C/1975 V1 (West) was at the sky exactly twenty years before "Hyakutake", I wasn't interested in the earlier comet - I have never seen "West". My first and probably for me the all time favourite comet was C/1996 B1 (Hyakutake). -

The above previews are referencing to larger JPEGs, that are

  1. 535x732 82kB JPEG C/1996 B2 (Hyakutake), 1996-03-27, 22h
  2. 600x427 76kB JPEG C/1996 B2 (Hyakutake), 1996-03-28, 1h
  3. 535x732 84kB JPEG C/1996 B2 (Hyakutake), 1996-03-28, 2h
  4. 1024x1422 168kB JPEG Orion over the Wannsee, 1996-03-27, after 22h
  5. 450x600 53kB JPEG C/1996 B2 (Hyakutake), 1996-04-14, 22h, 1 ("short")
  6. 748x1105 76kB JPEG C/1996 B2 (Hyakutake), 1996-04-14, 22h, 2 ("long")

For more pictures from around the world see the NASA/JPL Comet Hyakutake page maintained by Ron Baalke and the Index to the Comet Hyakutake of the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day.

C/1996 B2 (Hyakutake) had (different to Hale-Bopp) also an own posted FAQ of the CBAT, which is available as a local copy. Last year reseachers found out that a strange behaviour within the data of the solar polar orbitting probe Ulysses was cause by a flight of the probe through the huge tail of the comet Hyakutake, also published in an article in sci.space.news.

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C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp)

The great comet of 1997

Mein erstes Foto von Hale-Bopp, März 1997
In 1997 comet C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp) finally became visible for the naked eye on the Northern hemisphere. - The U.S. American Alan Hale and Tom Bopp had discovered this comet independently from each other in July 1995 when it appeared next to the globular cluster M70. At this time C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp) was way beyond the Jupiter orbit, and with this the comet became the most distant comet ever discovered by amateur astronomer.

At the distance of about Jupiter orbit Hale-Bopp was crossing the ecliptic in February 1996 from South to North, reaching Mars orbit distance at the end of 1996 and was crossing the ecliptic in May 1997 from North to South again. This second crossing was the final for a very long time, at least for some millennia. In the mid of May the comet became invisible from the Northern hemisphere of Earth.

Hale-Bopp am Nachthimmel oberhalb von Buch, April 1997
Both comets had the orbital characteristics that they were coming from the Southern hemisphere according to the ecliptic, that they had their perihelion North of the ecliptic and that they were leaving again towards the Southern sky. Both of them had an excentricity next to one, indicating that they were coming from the outer rim of the Solar system: the Oort cloud. But while comet Hyakutake was only visible while the perigeum and relating to Earth too close to the Sun to see at perihelion, Hale-Bopp was visible while perigeum at March 22, 1997 and also at Perihelion at April 1 on the Northern hemisphere.

The early discovery date gave enough opportunity to calculate the orbit of this comet and to get a good brightness estimation. Because of its high brightness at the discovery time at that distance place he got the advanced credits of becoming the greatest comet of the century, a hundred times brighter than its predecessor C/1996 B2 (Hyakutake) and also brighter than Jupiter and Mars at opposition. Even in the worst case as Hyakutake at its best time also Hale-Bopp should become visible within the cities of the Northern hemisphere.

According to the photo camera in the meantime I had changed from a Pentax Z-20 to a Pentax MZ-5, while the objective was still the f1.7/5mm objective bought especially for the comet Hyakutake.

Hale-Bopp in Berlin, April 1997
My first picture was happening somewhat unplanned at the parking deck of a shopping mall in Spandau at the 4th of March. About half an hour after the sunset I was amazed that the comet was already that visible. I had my camera with me, and the film was a Kodak 400 with an exposure time of about 2 seconds and a maximum opening of f1.7. The most obvious object on the picture is not the comet but the light streak of a starting airplane. The anyways bright light of Hale-Bopp is below and left of the trail of the airplane. The red stray light is from an neon ad from the other side of the street and below the parking deck. The light dot at the right border of the picture is Deneb.

But even from a better point of view I hadn't the luck to make a better photo, like the ones from others made of Hale-Bopp with the impressive blue ion tail. (I also never really saw this ion tail with the naked eye.) The second image of the ones presented herein is from the 1st of April from a location North of Berlin-Buch. Its one of the best images of this series from that day. All photos made with a zoom objective where somewhat green shifted, grainy and because of the necessary longer exposure time with only a few details. (I chose Berlin-Buch because its one of the more remote Northern districts of Berlin and therefore at that place the Northern sky where Hale-Bopp was to find at that time had fewer backlight problems. In fact the sky North of Berlin is divided into two parts, while in the South only the brightest objects like the Moon or the Planets get through the dome of dust, the sky in the North is under better conditions nicely starry black. Berlin-Buch is also a station of the city train and therefore this place is reachable in an acceptable time.)

Hale-Bopp am Nachthimmel über dem Breitscheidplatz, März 1997
After the first attempts at the 1st of April and the only mediocre results I made no more excursions out of the city. The third image is out of the kitchen window, where after some increased contrast and color corrections really a second, blueish and upright tail became visible. This image was done at the 7th of April with an 200ASA film and the same camera objective combination like the first ones.

C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp) was reaching its maximum brightness (ca. 0m0) mainly because of size. Probably this comet was a very young and new snowball. If it would had come as near to Earth as C/1996 B2 (Hyakutake) Hale-Bopp would had been a real event of the century, brighter and more impressive than comet Halley 1910 and comet West 1976.

But comparing to the announcements and its press echo the great comet of 1997 was a bit disappointing, although it really was brighter and better visible than comet Hyakutake. Different to its predecessor comet Hale-Bopp really was visible from within the city as the last picture of the herein shown is demonstrating. This until this month not shown picture was done from within Berlin from the Breitscheidplatz at the end of March (made with a Minox 35ML). Only the scan of the (9x13cm) picture makes it difficult to differ from the comet and dust particles on the photo...

For images from all around the world see for instance the NASA/JPL Comet Hale-Bopp page maintained by Ron Baalke and the Index to the Comet Hale-Bopp of the NASA APOD. Also the Wilhelm Foerster observatory Berlin has its own Hale-Bopp image page...

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C/2002 C1 (Ikeya-Zhang)

The comet of 2002

C/2002 C1 at the Berlin horizon, 2nd image, detail
At the 1st of February 2002 the astronomer Kaoru Ikeya and Daging Zhang discovered independently of each other a comet, which became the brightest comet at the nightly sky after about five years resp. after Hale-Bopp in 1997. The official name of this comet became C/2002 C1 (Ikeya-Zhang). It had its perihelion (the closest point to the Sun) at March 18, had reached its greatest brightness with about 4th magnitude at March 25, and had reached its perigeum (the closest point to Earth) at April 29. A normal brigthness curve assumed Ikeya-Zhang was getting dimmer until then below the 5th magnitude. Still it should had been possible to find with the unaided eye under better conditions than within the city.

From end of March until the start of May 2002 the comet was at the Northern Berlin sky. While it became steadily fainter it was rising also steadily into the sky, and from the 1st of April on it was circumpolar in the Berlin area, so from this time on it was visible all through the night, theoretically.

Within the night of April 4 to 5 there was the chance to watch the event when the comet was passing the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). After this the path of the comet lead it from Andromeda through the southern areas of Cassiopeia, through Cepheus and then into Draco, where it reached its closest position to Earth.

C/2002 C1 am Berliner Horizont Bild 3, Ausschnitt
The picture to the left is a clip of a snapshot including the comet near the Berlin horizon at March 20 at about 21h MET. At this evening there was the opportunity to take the Northern Triangle (Triangulum) as a search aid to locate the otherwise difficult to find tailed star. The peak corner of the triangle was pointing directly to the comet, which is visible within the complete view (1360x1024 140kB JPEG), where besides of the chain of light of an airplane also Mars is present near the left border of the image. The comet is the most right bottom fuzzy light streak. The camera for this image was an Olympus E-100RS with 16 seconds (maximum) exposure time at f3.4 and with a fixed ISO400 sensitivity. A very similar picture you will find at the WFS site as the Picture of the Week 13/02 (with the text only available in German).

The picture on the right side was also published as the WFS Picture of the Week 22/02. It shows the comet at the evening of the 4th of April 2002. The location for this photo was next to the Western border of Berlin, at the Hahneberg (where also an observatory is located). Despite of the remote place the photo shows clearly the light pollution of the Northwestern sky. I had with me not only the digital camera (Olympus E-100RS), but also the analog camera (Pentax MZ-5 + Pentax FA 50mm/1.7). The picture is showing the result of the analog camera, which was scanned from a 9x13cm printout. The comet is somewhat obvious within the lower right quarter. The picture is referencing to a digital one, which is showing a complete view (1360x1024 180kB JPEG) of the Northwestern sky of Staaken with Perseus and Cassiopeia at the sky, but also with the comet which is somewhat harder to find, though.

How a picture of the comet and the Andromeda nebular could look like when taken outside of the city and with the appropriate equipment is shown with the WFS Picture of the Week 17/02. More pictures you will find at the Comet page of the NASA/JPL, further informations about C/2002 C1 (Ikeya-Zhang) are to find at the Comet and Meteor site of the AMS (American Meteor Society).

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created: 2002-11-18 - modified: 2002-11-18 - modified: 2004-06-19

-- jd --