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Fraudulent Hale-Bopp Images

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 Things to beware of in 1997:
 Traveling in/to Europe.  Especially once the lines have been drawn.
 Obviously, this one loses something in the translation, since you can't see the
 images that are supposed to accompany the text.  However, it does pretty much
 explain the fraudulent photo.
                     Fraudulent use of an IfA/UH picture
 The "Secret Image"
 On January 15, 1997, a new "secret UFO picture" was posted on Art Bell's
 and Whitley Strieber's web sites, after being announced for several days.
 They supposedly received it through Ms. Prudence Calabrese and Dr. Courtney
 Brown from a "mysterious astrophysicist" who "preferred to remain
 anonymous." Below are the original images released at the two sites above
 (compressed 2x to save bandwidth).
                               [Image] [Image]
 The original caption of the images (on Strieber's site) said:
      The marked-up version identifies the object nestled deep in the
      comet's corona, immediately behind it. The clear version shows
      the same thing without the digital markings. To all appearances
      this is a genuine astronomical photograph, and the very close
      proximity of the object to the comet makes it hard (but not
      impossible) to claim that the object is a star.
 We have identified that image as being a fake based on an image obtained by
 an astronomer of the Institute for Astronomy, Dr. David Tholen. The
 original image was posted on our Hale-Bopp page more than one year ago.
 Below is a comparison of the central region of the two images. The
 fraudulent image has been rotated to match the orientation of the original
                           FRAUD   Original Image
                           [Image] [Image]
 Dr. D. Tholen's Statement
 Below is a statement by David Tholen, explaining why there is absolutely no
 doubt that the fake image is a doctored copy of his image.
      Images of comet Hale-Bopp showing an allegedly mysterious
      companion object have appeared on web sites with the URLs and
      These images are fraudulent. The mysterious companion object is
      not real, having been added to the image most likely using
      digital image processing techniques. The original image appears
      at a web site with the URL I took this image on
      1995 September 1 using the University of Hawaii 2.24-m telescope
      shortly before 6 hours UTC (or about 8 p.m. on August 31 Hawaiian
      Standard Time).
      There is no doubt that THIS 1995 September 1 image was used for
      the fraudulent images:
         * A careful comparison of the central region of the original
           image shows the comet in the same position with respect to
           the background stars, which means the real and doctored
           images must have been taken at essentially the same time. As
           such, the images could not have been taken from eastern Asia
           or Australia, where the Sun was still up, nor from western
           North or South America, where the comet was very low in the
         * The images of stars on both show the same amount of
           sharpness, so an observatory site capable of providing
           approximately arcsecond seeing must have been involved.
         * The faintest stars visible on both images are essentially
           the same, meaning that the combination of telescope aperture
           and exposure length must be the same. Given that the stars
           are not trailed, the exposures must have been short, meaning
           that a large telescope must have been used.
         * The relative brightnesses of the stars shown are also the
           same, meaning that the same filters must have been used and
           combined into a single image in the same way.
         * Lastly, the pixel size is the same.
      All of which indicates that these are in fact the same image.
      Hawaii is the only place with large telescopes that could have
      taken the image at the time indicated by the comet's placement
      among the stars, and with the degree of sharpness provided by the
      atmosphere above the observatory site. The 2.24-m telescope was
      the only one on the mountain equipped with a camera that provided
      the correct pixel size, and the only one that used the particular
      combination of red, green, and blue filters to produce the
      original color composite. There is no doubt about the origin of
      this image.
      The myserious companion object does not appear on the original,
      which means it was added to the copy by some unknown individual
      in an attempt to deceive the public.
      The original images are not secret, as claimed on the first two
      web sites mentioned above, having been available on the Institute
      for Astronomy's web site since September of 1995, and it has also
      appeared on Sky Publishing's web site with permission. The
      allegedly mysterious astrophysicist who took the image was never
      at the point of making a public announcement to claim discovery
      of the object; there is no object for which discovery can be
      claimed. The identity of the faked image with the one I took was
      called to my attention only today, and this statement was
      prepared as a rebuttal.
      Dr. David J. Tholen
      Institute for Astronomy
      University of Hawaii
      1997 January 15
 Brown and Calabrese's "original"
 The statement posted by Dr. Brown contains evidence that the image he
 published is not an original:
      [...] We were eager to obtain physical confirming evidence of our
      remote viewing sessions that could be seen as a form of
      scientific feedback. The astronomer sent us three rolls of film
      that we then developed. Two of the rolls were blank when
      developed. But the other roll had five very good astronomical
      photographs, unevenly placed along the film strip. [...]
 (Dr Brown's complete statement is also available on this site)
 Note that the image is EXCELLENT: very sharp (implying a good telescope in
 a good site; from the time of the image obtained by the position of the
 comet, this can ONLY be Mauna Kea) and very deep (very faint stars are
 visible), imply a large telescope (at least a couple of meters diameter).
 All this points to a large professional telescope on Mauna Kea (for a more
 detailed discussion, please refer to Dr. D.Tholen's statement).
 The fact is that NO modern large professional telescope use traditional
 photographic material anymore: CCDs are MUCH more sensitive and convenient.
 Moreover, in the past, the photographic material we used was not fill rolls
 but large glass plates! (a few telescopes of the "Schmidt" kind still use
 large photographic plates for very wide field imaging; there is no such
 telescope at Mauna Kea). Of course, film is widely used by amateur
 astronomers using small telescopes, but the resulting image would not be as
 sharp and deep as the original.
 The processing of astronomical photographic plates/films is tricky and
 requires lots of practice and special chemicals: no astronomer would trust
 anyone untrained to process material with crucial data on it. Moreover, the
 processing has to be performed soon after the image is taken (usually
 during the same night). More than one year is unheard of. Last point: it is
 impossible to know in advance (before looking at it!) if an image will be
 good or bad: something CAN go wrong at any time from the image taking till
 the end of the chemical processing.
 Therefore, Dr. Brown's story of receiving 3 undeveloped film rolls is
 completely unrealistic. If these 3 rolls exist, they contain pictures that
 have not been obtained directly from a telescope. While it cannot be proven
 unambiguously, the fact that the fine structure of both the fake and the
 original image are matching so well suggest that the whole process was
 digital, without any film roll and scanner involved.
 The original images
 Below are the real original images. The color image is a composite of 3
 frames obtained imaging the comet successively through a Red, Green and
 Blue filters (the standard R, V, B filters used for astronomical
 photometry) with a "Loral" CCD. The resulting digital images were
 transfered from the telescope computer to magnetic tapes, and then loaded
 on a computer at the Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu. They received
 minimal processing (bias subtraction and flat-fielding; please refer to the
 Basic Image Processing pages for a description of these steps and the
 reasons why they are required). The resulting digital images are saved in
 FITS format (Flexible Image Transfer Standard), which is exclusively used
 for storing and transferring professional astronomical images. The images
 are LARGE: about 2 MegaBytes, for 498x1024 pixels. Feel free to down-load
 them and to perform any analysis that would convince you that these are the
 originals! (like, background noise analysis, point-spread-function
 analysis, etc...).
 In case you don't have the tools to display with FITS images (which are NOT
 displayed by directly WWW browsers), SAO-Image (sources in Unix Compressed
 Tar File, or sources in Zip-compressed Tar file) is what you need.
 Remember that these are real raw images coming directly from the telescope;
 they have NOT been cleaned for the detector and telescope artifacts.
 Therefore, please read the Basic Image Processing and Typical CCD Artifacts
 pages, in order to identify the cosmic rays, bad columns, flat-field
 defects, etc, present in these images.
                             Original FITS frames
         Warning: 2Mb each, will not be displayed by a WWW browser.
                     On these images, N is to the right,
                      W is to the top. This orientation
                   is determined by the physical position
                       of the CCD under the telescope.
       Red                  Green                Blue
       ccd024f.fits         ccd025f.fits         ccd026f.fits
       ccd024f.fits.z       ccd025f.fits.z       ccd026f.fits.z
        GIFs and JPGs obtained directly from the original FITS files.
              click on the thumbnails to down-load the images.
                                 Full frames
       Red                  Green                Blue
       [Image]              [Image]              [Image]
            Central region, displayed using different thresholds
       Red                  Green                Blue
       [Image]              [Image]              [Image]
       [Image]              [Image]              [Image]
       [Image]              [Image]              [Image]
       [Image]              [Image]              [Image]
       [Image]              [Image]              [Image]
                              Zoom on the comet
       Red                  Green                Blue
       [Image]              [Image]              [Image]
                              Color Composite,
                   available on this site since Sep. 1995.
       The orientation has been normalized to North up, and East left.
                           [Image] 40K [Image]19K
 All these images are ฉ 1996, Institute for Astronomy. Permission is granted
 to reproduce them if credit is given to D. Tholen and R. Wainscoat, IfA.
 Olivier Hainaut
 Wed Jan 22 18:31:57 1997 [Image]

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