Thomas Bopp on Hale-Bopp

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NBC Today Show
Katie Couric
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Video News Report
NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
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Co-discoverer of the Hale-Bopp Comet Thomas Bopp talks with NBC's Katie Couric about the finding and its significance to astronomy and encouraging others to learn more about our solar system.



"Thomas Bopp on Hale-Bopp." Katie Couric, correspondent. NBC Today Show. NBCUniversal Media. 22 Apr. 1997. NBC Learn. Web. 27 March 2015.


Couric, K. (Reporter). (1997, April 22). Thomas Bopp on Hale-Bopp. [Television series episode]. NBC Today Show. Retrieved from


"Thomas Bopp on Hale-Bopp" NBC Today Show, New York, NY: NBC Universal, 04/22/1997. Accessed Fri Mar 27 2015 from NBC Learn:


Thomas Bopp on Hale-Bopp

KATIE COURIC, co-host:

Well, it's almost time to say goodbye to the Hale-Bopp comet. For scientists, it's provided some answers about the origins of life and the solar system. For kids all across the country, it sparked an interest in astronomy. And for one of the men who found it, well, it's simply been the dream of a lifetime.

Thomas Bopp, good morning. Welcome back.

Mr. THOMAS BOPP (Discovered Comet Hale-Bopp): Good morning.

COURIC: You know, it's been almost two years since that night in July when you and Alan Hale, separately, discovered this comet. Did you everdream that it would become such a huge deal?

Mr. BOPP: No, I thought that it would be a comet that would be mentioned in the back of some obscure textbook somewhere, but it's certainly not turned out to be that way.

COURIC: It's been so much more. In fact, we were talking about why it wasn't called the Bopp-Hale Comet. So let me go right to the source.

Mr. BOPP: Yes, well, we--we both reported it within about three or four minutes of each other. And he reported it a little bit before I did, so Alan Hale's name got on it first. No problem with that.

COURIC: Tell me--tell me about some of the scientific discoveries and findings that have been made as a result of this comet, the most exciting ones.

Mr. BOPP: Well, I--I was privileged to go to the White Sands missile range and observe a--a rocket launch where they sent up an ultraviolet spectrograph to view the comet. And they said they got really good results from that. They're finding isotopes and other materials in the comet that have never been observed before. They recently discovered

a--a sodium tail...

COURIC: A third tail.

Mr. BOPP: A third tail which had never been observed before in a comet. So, a lot of neat things about the origin of the solar system.

COURIC: You know, as you know, and of course as everybody knows, 39 people in California committed suicide because they thought there was a UFO trailing this comet.

Mr. BOPP: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: Are you worried that Hale-Bock--Bopp will be forever linked to this tragedy?

Mr. BOPP: No. I--I think that, you know, it's sad that something like that happened. But I believe that those people were looking for an excuse. And if it hadn't been the so-called companion following the comet, they would have found something else.

COURIC: Because this comet is so big, 25 miles in diam--dynamet--diameter, rather, with a tail that's millions of miles long, many, many people all across the country have been able to see this. What do you think i--it's done for the field of astronomy in


Mr. BOPP: Well, I--I think it's sparked a fantastic interest. I've traveled all over the country. Literally thousands of people have told me how this has brought their families closer together. They've gone out to observe the comet with their kids. Either the parents took the kids out and got the kids excited about it, or the other way around. But so much interest and people telling me, you know, `I had to go run out and buy a telescope for my kid now and--and get every book out of the library on astronomy.' So, I think it sparked a great interest in the sky as well as just the comet.

COURIC: So you think a lot of people, like kids, may enter the field of astronomy?

Mr. BOPP: Well, I hope so. I hope that--I hope that kids--it sparks an interest other--in some healthy studies rather than, you know, some of the things kids get involved in. And I think that from what I've seen, that that's going to happen.

COURIC: What is the most exciting thing that's happened to you as a result of this discovery?

Mr. BOPP: Getting to meet the people. People are fantastic. I've been able to travel to some of the world's major observatories, and people are just wonderful about the comet. I've gotten tours of Palamar and Kit Peak. I spent the night at Kit Peak observing with the Space Watch program with Jim Scotty and met--met Jamie over there at Palamar. And she just discovered another comet, 1997-D1. And...

COURIC: And what advice would you give to people, Mr. Bopp, if they still want to catch a glimpse before it heads for the Southern Hemisphere?

Mr. BOPP: Well, it will be visible 'til about maybe May 10th. And then it will leave our view and the people in South America and Australia will get to study it. So, it won't be back for another 2380 years. So, better take a look na--better take a look now if you want to see the third brightest comet in absolute brightness since the year 1400.

COURIC: Well, it's so exciting. Will you continue to scour the skies?

Mr. BOPP: I--I'll never give up looking at the skies. There's so many beautiful things there. And I love to share that with people.

COURIC: Well, Thomas Bopp, forever known as the--the co-discoverer of the Hale-Bopp Comet, thanks so much for coming in. And best of luck to you.

Mr. BOPP: Thank you very much.