by Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer

from TheMilleniumGroup Website


The suggestion that comet Hale-Bopp might have a satellite orbiting its nucleus, based on Hubble Space Telescope images, has resurfaced amid doubts.

Reporting in the current issue of Earth, Moon, and Planets, an international journal, Zdenek Sekanina of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory writes about a Hale-Bopp satellite detected by applying theoretical modeling to images taken with Hubbleís Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 on five days during 1996.

If further research confirms the satellite, it would be the first known cometary satellite discovered in a stable orbit, Sekanina said in a telephone interview.(1)

While satellites have been spotted around other comets, in each case they are drifting away from their host, destined to eventually break free from the relatively minor gravitational tug. Hale-Bopp -- which made its closest approach to the sun in 1997 -- is a huge comet, and Sekanina said it is therefore a prime candidate for being capable of binding a satellite into a stable orbit. The satellite might have broken off the main nucleus during a previous pass through the solar system, he said, possibly because of the gravitational effects of Jupiter.(2)

Sekanina says the satellite is roughly 30 kilometers in diameter (18 miles), compared with a main nucleus estimated to be 70 kilometers across (43 miles). The two objects appear to be separated by about 160 to 210 kilometers. The satellite appears to take two or three days to complete an orbit, Sekanina said.(3)

Harold Weaver, a research scientist in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the Johns Hopkins University, has doubts about the report, which is based on Hubble Space Telescope (HST) images Weaver has studied (and actually provided to Sekanina). In a separate paper due to appear in an upcoming issue of Earth, Moon, and Planets, Weaver and a colleague, Philippe Lamy, make their case against the possible satellite.

"We argue that Sekaninaís conclusions about multiple nuclei cannot be trusted because he is trying to extract more information from the HST images than they contain," Weaver told "In particular, the (detectors) on HST are not perfect devices, and one has to be very careful about interpreting every íbump and wiggleí in the data as evidence for companion nuclei. In other words, we feel that Sekanina may be over interpreting the data."(4)

Sekanina agrees with Weaver that the satellite (or second nucleus) does not appear on the Hubble image. "I donít see it either," Sekanina said. But while Weaver is an observer, Sekanina is a theorist. He starts with the assumption that there is a satellite, then he tries to find it in the data using a complicated modeling process that filters the light reflected by dust surrounding the comet.

"The only way to extract the nuclei (from the images) is to do a digital modeling of the central cloud," Sekanina said. He applied two different techniques to five separate images. "Iím reasonably certain that something is there," Sekanina said, "because I see it on each of the five images using two different models of extraction of the dust cloud."

Weaver is familiar with the modeling method, and respects Sekaninaís work in general, but still he doubts that there is anything unusual in the images. He noted the new paper is similar to previous papers by Sekanina that used similar methods to reach a similar conclusion. (5)

"There are some interesting new results in the (new) paper - but, in my opinion, they do not strengthen the case for multiple nuclei," Weaver said. "Of course, we could be wrong."

Another group of researchers, writing in the September issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics, claims evidence from ground-based observations that indicates a second nucleus in Hale-Bopp. This apparent second nucleus is a different one than that proposed by Sekanina. It was derived by applying a technique called adaptive optics, which attempts to filter effects of Earthís atmosphere and resolve objects that otherwise are not apparent in an image. (6)

Weaver and Lamy also dispute this detection, based on Hubble Telescope images taken at nearly the same time but which do not show companions of the type claimed by the authors, "even though they should have been easily detected in the Hubble Space Telescope data."

Why does it matter?
said there are more than two dozen confirmed examples of comets splitting into fragments, the most famous recent example being Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which plowed into Jupiter in several stages. It is therefore conceivable that relatively large fragments could have broken away from Comet Hale-Bopp.(7)

"However, no one has ever detected a bound companion to a cometary nucleus, as Sekanina is claiming, so that would be very exciting," Weaver said. "There are now several known examples of binary asteroids, and maybe comets sometimes also have stable companions."(8)

If a comet had two nuclei, Weaver said there is a chance the two could collide, "which would temporarily produce a large outburst in activity by the comet."(9)

Meanwhile, Sekanina plans to get to work figuring out the orbital details of his suspected satellite. One result of that effort could be a better understanding of comets in general.

"If we can calculate the orbit, we could calculate the first mass of a comet ever," he said.(10)



by Gary D. Goodwin

(1) In late 1995 it was reported on these pages that Hale Bopp had numerous objects traveling with it. In fact we pointed out that there were several of considerable size.

(2) Two points here: First we stated repeatedly that this comet was huge. However, secondly, it is still not understood, or at least admitted by mainstream theorists that comets are generally highly charged. Therefore, comets that are highly charged have the ability, or rather display the behavior of strong EMF. These sometimes very strong electrical fields have the potential to maintain debris and other bodies around them. This is not to say that these bodies and/or debris can be torn from the primary body. There are other important factors involved (such as centrifugal force), however cometary bodies in general possess enormously powerful electric fields.

(3) Itís interesting to see the difference in size estimates. Dr. Sekanina is one of the foremost cometary experts alive today. However, we continue to believe that Hale Bopp was and is incredibly large - on the order of thousands of miles! Because the attachment is due to EMF, we believe that there is not a regular orbit, or that it is possible to hypothesize an orbit. The orbit has been very irregular and not circular, at times bouncing at the end of the EMF rope (so to speak) and then back - attempting to circularize, but unable to due to the violent nature of the cometary environment.

(4) Itís very sad to see the critical and failing nature of science at work here. Dr. Sekanina utilized strict scientific method and critical observation to come to his conclusions. It appears that Dr. Weaver has some apprehension that Sekanina may be correct and jumped quickly to poopoo it. The fact is, that there are numerous images, that we have posted, that clearly show the presence of the satellite. You might ask yourself what is so concerning about admitting the existence of a Hale Bopp satellite? The simple fact is, that the acceptance of such a theory opens the flood gate to the theory of the Electric Universe and comets that are highly charged, sucking up huge amounts of plasma as they rip thru the inner, plasma rich, solar system. And if this is true (which we strongly support), then the house of cards called the Big Bang theory and its relatives - a controlling society, fueled by a traditional scientific position of proof at all costs - will simply blow away in the face of this new reality.

(5) Once again we are witnesses to this attitude of pride and competition in the scientific community. Unfortunately this has kept the tax paying community from receiving the greater benefits that science has to offer. Critical review is a necessary and important concept, however rigid unacceptance due to a need to control is not helpful. Remember... the Hubble Space Telescope is owned by the tax paying public. I will not be surprised if we are asked to remove this article from these pages due to these comments.

(6) Adaptive optics have been used on the telescopes at the Air Force station called AMOS. This is a very controversial approach and has been widely withheld from the public. However there are many different approaches that may fall in to the category of "Adaptive Optics".

(7) WRONG! The last comet to be shown to fragment was Comet Lee. Fragmenting is not at all an uncommon thing to occur with comets. SL9 has been referred to as a comet, but it should be noted that SL9 was not observed to have any hydrogen in it, thus defeating the traditionally accepted theory of the dirty snowball comet. This lack of definable hydrogen (water), could be explained in that it had not reached the plasma rich inner solar system. There is however a limited amount of hydrogen (plasma) around Jupiter. Thus there was a limited tail seen with this group of objects. And further there appears to have been recently a great increase in EMF activity surrounding Jupiter and its moons.

(8) Well unfortunately, we are not accepted by the status quo as acceptable sources of information. Even though we have documented on several occasions the electromagnetic disposition of cometary and other solar system objects. But it does a heart good to see a well known and accepted scientist, such as Dr. Sekanina to lean toward our findings!

(9) Actually with a dielectric field, it is to a degree, unlikely that the tag-alongs could collide with the primary. But due to the violent nature of the cometary environment common reorganization of the core materials is possible if not likely, depending upon the core minerals involved. The fact of the matter is, that these things are not yet fully tested out.

(10) I can only hope that Dr. Sekanina, like Dr. Charles Morris, is reading our pages often.