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Heaven's Gate (Part 13)

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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:
                                          MYSTERY DEATHS
                                      Comet photo spins web
                                            of debate
                      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
                      the comet.
                      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)