Some astronomical discoveries are made by professional astronomers who dedicated years of their lives to the search of objects previously uncharted. Such was the case with Alan Hale, a Naval Academy graduate and former contractor with JPL on their Deep Space program, with a Ph.D. in astronomy. Other astronomers are made by amateur enthusiasts — as was the case with Thomas Bopp, a manager at a construction materials factory in Tucson, Arizona, when he gazed into the sky from his friend’s telescope one fine July evening, and saw to his amazement a comet not on any of the star charts. That same evening, Alan Hale’s hard work in searching for comets paid off as he, too, noticed the new one, notifying the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams.
On this day, July 23, in 1995, the Comet that would eventually bear both men’s names was discovered, in the constellation of Sagittarius.
Both brighter and larger than Haley’s Comet, Hale-Bopp’s distinct visibility starting in summer of 1996 made quite a sensation among both astronomers and occultists. The latter got their start when a bright object appeared next to the comet, seemingly following its trajectory across the sky — Art Bell, the Houston man who first observed it claimed that no stars were charted in that position, meaning the object had to be a UFO. But Nancy Lieder, a UFO expert on account of her claimed direct line to the aliens through an implant in her brain, pooh-poohed the idea, stating Hale-Bopp was a distraction from the real danger: the coming of the giant planet Nubiru, which would shift Earth out of orbit and doom us all. Lieder’s prediction of an apocalypse in 2003 came and went, and has now been postponed for 2012 to coincide with the Mayan calendar’s end.