How to Photograph Comet Hale-Bopp

Visible during March and April, Comet Hale-Bopp will be closest to Earth around March 22, and photographing the comet is easier than you might think. If you live in the city, the comet may not look like much to your naked eye, but a photograph can reveal the fainter tail and create some wonderful images. It’s best to use a single-lens reflex camera with a “B” setting. Place the camera with a standard 50mm lens on a sturdy surface or tripod, and load it with fast film, either color or black and white.

Focus the lens to infinity, set the aperture to its widest setting, and point the camera at the comet, which may be difficult to see through the viewfinder. Include some foreground details, such as a tree or building, then take a series of pictures, holding the shutter open for 10 seconds, 20 seconds and 30 seconds.

Telephoto lenses will quickly show the result of the Earth’s rotation within 15 seconds, creating star trails, a rather nice effect if you want to try it. Alternatively, a special drive system is needed to follow the sky’s apparent movement, such as those found on some telescopes.

The comet is best viewed and photographed in a dark, rural setting. But even from the light-polluted city areas, where the comet may only appear as a fuzzy blob, photographs quickly reveal the tail, which may not be visible to the naked eye.

“Late Nights” at the Science Center

Looking for a fun evening out that the whole family can enjoy? The Science Center is open until 9:00 p.m. every Saturday. In addition, the Omnimax Theater offers late-night shows every Friday and Saturday night, with Special Effects, Yellowstone and 3-D laser shows.

Science Center Expands Web Sites

Carnegie Science Center has two new web sites geared specifically to the general public, teachers and teenagers.

The main web site ( offers activities that users can try at home, and interactive graphics that enable them to “virtually” tour the facility’s exhibits. A mapping system allows visitors to easily obtain directions into Pittsburgh and to print a custom-designed map. Other resources include a weather update, a sky map showing where Comet Hale-Bopp will appear, links to other educational sites and information on scheduling children’s birthday parties at the Science Center and signing up for the latest classes and programs. Teachers will find a wealth of resources for classroom use, for planning field trips and for professional development and in-school programs.

The second web site ( was designed by teens of Carnegie Science Academy for users in grades 9–12. Teens can unite globally and share ideas and information on a new topic each month. There is also a chat room for monthly meetings of the new global Science Academy.

Maya Design assisted in creating both sites. Additional elements are in the planning stages. For more information about the two web sites or happenings at Carnegie Science Center, visit or call 237-3400.


Call 237-3400 for a current schedule of events and submarine tours.

Miniature Railroad and Village

Pittsburgh’s famous 2,300-square-foot display depicts life in 1920s.


Feel an earthquake in full motion in the “quake room,” step inside a wind tunnel, use infrared cameras to see the heat variations in your body, and more in this exploration of light and sound waves, flight and the forces of nature.

Science & Sport

Climb an ice wall, learn how to pitch a fast ball, and play a game of “virtual” basketball.

USS Requin

Tour Pittsburgh’s only submarine docked right outside the Science Center on the banks of the Ohio River. The 1997 tour highlights the sub’s propulsion and engineering plant.

The Works

Five stages in this electronic theater feature live, in-depth presentations of a working foundry, industrial and educational robots, powerful lasers, fast-freeze cryogenics and electrical equipment like the huge Tesla coil.


Learn about what we eat, why we eat and the foods of various peoples of the world. A special feature is the Kitchen Theater, where daily shows take a look at the science behind cooking. (See Kitchen Theater column in this issue.)


This interactive water sculpture illustrates important hydraulic principles.

Ports of Discovery

Interactive exhibits designed primarily for children ages 3–13 are coupled with a four-tank coral reef aquarium that is fascinating for people of all ages.


Call 237-3400 for current showtimes.

Comet: From Ice to Fire through October 3

What are comets? How can I see one? Find the answers to these questions and see live images of what could be the brightest comet in 20 years, Comet Hale-Bopp.

Stars Over Pittsburgh Ongoing

The doors to the Pittsburgh night sky are open to you to explore the planets, constellations and stars. Learn to locate the Big Dipper, the North Star and other deep-sky wonders.

Omnimax Theater
Yellowstone through June 12

Come face to face with a grizzly bear and soar to the top of a waterfall in the world’s first and oldest national park. Learn about geysers and hot springs, and the history and wildlife at Yellowstone. This film is offered as a double feature film at 7:00 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays only, followed by Special Effects at 8:00 p.m. Tickets may be purchased separately.

3-D Laser Shows Ongoing

Cutting-edge technology takes viewers through three dimensions as laser images pop off the Omnimax’s giant screen and appear to hover in mid-air. Don’t miss this popular extravaganza of light and color on “Late Nights” Fridays and Saturdays, and weekend matinees.

Special Effects   through June 12

Get an inside view of the wizardry that goes into the creation of special effects in Hollywood movies. See spectacular spaceship maneuvers from Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition, the alien attack in Independence Day, a stampede of elephants and rhinos in Jumanji, and the flying genie from Kazaam. The film demonstrates how camera operators, animators and computer graphic artists rely on the principles of visual perception to fool movie audiences.