Comet Hale-Bopp and the mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate sect: they thought an alien ship was coming for them
In the vicinity of the orbit of Jupiter, an unusually bright comet was observed by two American astronomers in New Mexico and Arizona. Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp discovered the celestial body that bears their name, which they called the most seen comet of the 20th century. It was July 23, 1997.
When it became known that Comet Hale Bopp would pass close to Earth, Marshall Applewhite, a former music teacher who ran the Heaven’s Gate cult, announced to his followers that their time had come. In the tail of the star, “an extraterrestrial ship would come for them that would take them to the gates of heaven.”
They had to prepare.
This was Comet Hale-Bopp
Hale and Bopp saw, almost at the same time, the blue and white racing car. Both sent their observations to the Central Office of Astronomical Telegrams of the International Astronomical Union: from there, which bears both surnames.
The Hale-Bopp, officially named by NASA C/1995 O1It was a thousand times brighter than Halley’s Comet, and in the age of the Internet boom, images were running in real time.
It would be at its closest point to Earth on March 22, 1997, at about 120 million miles. As the Space portal explains, by comparison, the Sun is 150 million kilometers from Earth.
For more than 18 months, Hale-Bopp was on everyone’s lips, getting more and more intense. Swinburne University of Technology called it a long-period comet because it had an orbital period of more than 200 years.
Because of this, it was much less predictable than short-period comets.
The Heaven’s Gate sect, waiting for “the ship that would come with the comet”
As Hale-Bopp got closer, Applewhite and his followers prepared to receive the alien craft that was presumably hidden in the comet’s tail.
Applewhite preached sexual abstinence and had undergone castration. Members of the Heaven’s Gate cult believed that their bodies were containers to be abandoned in favor of a higher physical existence.
All the men were castrated, preparing to leave on the alien ship for the sky. At least, this was what they thought.
In late March 1997, in a mansion in suburban San Diego, California, Applewhite and 38 of his followers drank a cocktail of phenobarbital and vodka, subsequently dying while waiting for the Hale-Bopp ship.
The bodies of 21 women and 18 men were found, all wearing new clothes and sneakers.
What was strictly an astronomical phenomenon had become a tragedy of colossal proportions. Fanaticism clouded science again.
By 2001, the comet was already more than 2 billion kilometers from Earth, midway between Saturn and Uranus. In his memory were the most seen comet of the 20th century and the Heaven’s Gate tragedy, hand in hand.