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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)