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Heaven's Gate (Part 13)
Ί T R U S T N O O N E Ί
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Things to beware of in 1997:
Earth, wind, and fire. Or, more preciesely, earthquakes, tornados,
and volcanos (new ones). The weather, it is a-changin.
From the Chicago Tribune, today's issue:
Comet photo spins web
By Peter Kendall
TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Of all the photos of Comet Hale-Bopp made at
observatories around the world, none compare
with the one radio broadcaster Chuck Shramek took
with his backyard telescope in Houston.
His was the only one that showed a spaceship riding
alongside the comet.
Shramek's image, posted on the World
Wide Web, is proof of at least one
thing: Ancient superstitions about
comets haven't disappeared in the
information age. They've only gone
Almost from the day Comet Hale-Bopp
was discovered in 1995, people have
been flooding the Internet with dire
predictions and prognostications about
the "Millennial Comet." And of course,
they say, the government is covering
up the truth.
Early on, some people became alarmed
when they noticed that the orbit of
the comet seemed to be changing.
"The comet has consistently
demonstrated its ability to change
course," one Internet posting said.
"Although comets do make slight course
changes due to off-gassing, some of
these mid-course corrections, for lack
of a better term, are quite
Something, it appeared, was steering
NASA, however, had a different
explanation: It wasn't that the comet
was changing direction, but that the
longer scientists watched it, the
better they could calculate its true
The orbit controversy was only
whetting the conspiratorial appetite for Shramek's
photo of what some people simply call the "SLO" --
the Saturn-like object.
To Shramek, it is a snapshot of a "mysterious
spacecraft" following the comet.
After taking the picture, Shramek appeared on a
national radio show hosted by Art Bell, who helped
launch the picture into notoriety.
Alan Hale, one of the comet's two discoverers, wrote
in the March edition of the Skeptical Inquirer
magazine that he looked at the photo and noticed
something right away.
The "spacecraft" happened to be in the same position
as a star the comet was passing. "The Saturn-like
rings extending from the object were apparently
nothing more than a diffraction effect, a common
occurrence with over-exposed stellar images on
astronomical photographs," Hale wrote.
If Shramek had only focused his telescope properly,
the spacecraft would have disappeared, Hale
But the debunking of Shramek's photo by Hale and
other scientists serves as a kind of proof of its
authenticity to some.
"I must have come close to revealing some truth that
the powers that be wanted to be kept a secret or
nobody would have cared," Shramek wrote on his home
Shortly after Shramek's photo was posted on the
Internet, rumors circulated about strange radio
signals emanating from the comet.
And then there was the reputed cover-up.
The Hubble Space Telescope, which had been snapping
pictures of the comet, suddenly had stopped doing so
for several months.
Again, scientists had an explanation. The comet had
been so close to the sun that aiming the telescope's
delicate instruments in its direction would have
risked burning them out.
"If a great catastrophe were coming, and our
government knew, why wouldn't they tell us?" one Web
page asks. "Wouldn't they want to give us a chance
to be prepared for such an event? Is it because
they're more interested in protecting the financial
markets than human life?"
Next: Heaven's Gate (Part 14)