Jul 23 2010

On This Day in History: July 23

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour a cup of your favorite morning beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

THE GREAT COMET OF 1997. Above, the bright head of comet Hale-Bopp, called the coma, is pointed towards the Sun. The coma is composed of dust and gas, masking the solid nucleus of the comet made up of rock, dust and ice. Photo taken by Jim Young at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories Table Mountain Observatory in March 1997.

The comet was discovered in 1995 by two independent observers, Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp, both in the United States. Hale had spent many hundreds of hours searching for comets without success, and was tracking known comets from his driveway in New Mexico when he chanced upon Hale-Bopp just after midnight. The comet had an apparent magnitude of 10.5 and lay near the globular cluster M70 in the constellation of Sagittarius. Hale first established that there was no other deep-sky object  near M70, and then consulted a directory of known comets, finding that none were known to be in this area of the sky. Once he had established that the object was moving relative to the background stars, he emailed the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, the clearing house for astronomical discoveries.

Bopp did not own a telescope. He was out with friends near Stanfield, Arizona observing star clusters and galaxies when he chanced across the comet while at the eyepiece of his friend’s telescope. He realized he might have spotted something new when, like Hale, he checked his star maps to determine if any other deep-sky objects were known to be near M70, and found that there were none. He alerted the Central Bureau of Astronomical Telegrams through a Western Union telegram. Brian Marsden, who has run the bureau since 1968, laughed, “Nobody sends telegrams anymore. I mean, by the time that telegram got here, Alan Hale had already e-mailed us three times with updated coordinates.”

The following morning, it was confirmed that this was a new comet, and it was named Comet Hale-Bopp, with the designation C/1995 O1. The discovery was announced in International Astronomical Union circular 6187.

 1632 – Three hundred colonists bound for New France depart from Dieppe, France.

1793 – Prussia re-conquers Mainz from France.

1829 – In the United States, William Austin Burt patents the Typographer, a precursor to the typewriter.

1840 – The Province of Canada is created by the Act of Union.

1862 – American Civil War: Henry W. Halleck takes command of the Union Army.

1881 – The Federation Internationale de Gymnastique, the world’s oldest international sport federation, is founded.

1881 – The Boundary treaty of 1881 between Chile and Argentina is signed in Buenos Aires.

1903 – The Ford Motor Company sells its first car.

1914 – Austria-Hungary issues an ultimatum to Serbia demanding Serbia to allow the Austrians to determine who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Serbia rejects those demands and Austria declares war on July 28.

1926 – Fox Film buys the patents of the Movietone sound system for recording sound onto film.

1929 – The Fascist government in Italy bans the use of foreign words.

1936 – In Catalonia, Spain, the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia is founded through the merger of socialist and communist parties.

1940 – United States’ Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles’s declaration on the U.S. non-recognition policy of the Soviet annexation and incorporation of three Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

1942 – The Holocaust: The Treblinka extermination camp is opened.

1942 – World War II: Operation Edelweiss begins.

1952 – Establishment of the European Coal and Steel community.

1952 – General Muhammad Naguib leads the Free Officers Movement (formed by Gamal Abdel Nasser – the real power behind the coup) in the overthrow of King Farouk of Egypt.

1956 – The Loi Cadre is passed by the French Republic in order to order French overseas territory affairs.

1961 – The Sandinista National Liberation Front is founded in Nicaragua.

1962 – Telstar relays the first publicly transmitted, live trans-Atlantic television program, featuring Walter Cronkite.

1962 – The International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos is signed.

1967 – 12th Street Riot: In Detroit, Michigan, one of the worst riots in United States history begins on 12th Street in the predominantly African American inner city (43 killed, 342 injured and 1,400 buildings burned).

1968 – Glenville Shootout: In Cleveland, Ohio, a violent shootout between a Black Militant organization led by Ahmed Evans and the Cleveland Police Department occurs. During the shootout, a riot begins that lasted for five days.

1968 – The only successful hijacking of an El Al aircraft takes place when a 707 carrying 10 crew and 38 passengers is taken over by three members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The aircraft was en route from Rome, Italy, to Lod, Israel.

1970 – Qaboos ibn Sa’id becomes Sultan of Oman after overthrowing his father, Sa’id ibn Taimur.

1972 – The United States launches Landsat 1, the first Earth-resources satellite.

1982 – The International Whaling Commission decides to end commercial whaling by 1985-86.

1983 – The Sri Lankan Civil War begins with the killing of 13 Sri Lanka Army soldiers by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. In the subsequent government-organised pogrom of Black July, about 1,000 Tamils are slaughtered, some 400,000 Tamils flee to neighbouring Tamil Nadu, India and many find refuge in Europe and Canada.

1984 – Vanessa Williams becomes the first Miss America to resign when she surrenders her crown after nude photos of her appeared in Penthouse magazine.

1986 – In London, Prince Andrew, Duke of York marries Sarah Ferguson at Westminster Abbey.

1988 – General Ne Win, effective ruler of Burma since 1962, resigns after pro-democracy protests.

1992 – A Vatican commission, led by Joseph Ratzinger, establishes that it is necessary to limit rights of homosexual people and non-married couples.

1992 – Abkhazia declares independence from Georgia.

1995 – Comet Hale-Bopp is discovered and becomes visible to the naked eye nearly a year later.

1997 – Digital Equipment Company files antitrust charges against chipmaker Intel.

1999 – Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Al-Hassan is crowned King Mohammed VI of Morocco on the death of his father.

2008 – Cape Verde joins the World Trade Organization, becoming its 153rd member.

2009 – Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox becomes the 18th pitcher to throw a perfect game in Major League Baseball history, defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 5-0.


  1. TMC
  2. Translator, aka Dr. David W. Smith

    on temporary duty at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah when Hale-Bopp was at its peak.  Excellent clear skies give breathtaking views of it.  It is by far the most striking comet that I have personally seen.

    Warmest regards,


Comments have been disabled.