Contact: Alan Hale, Southwest Institute for Space Research (505) 687-2075
Date: July 20, 2000

Dr. Alan Hale, Director of the Southwest Institute for Space Research in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, and known for his discovery of Comet Hale-Bopp which shone in the nighttime skies three years ago, is journeying to Iran to participate in an international scientific conference on comets to be held in the city of Esfahan from July 22–24. This trip builds upon contacts that were made during Hale’s trip to Iran in August 1999 to view the total solar eclipse that took place then and which included presentations at several universities within Iran. The conference has been organized by the Adib Astronomical Society in Esfahan, and was designed to coincide with the appearance of Comet LINEAR, an object discovered last fall by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program based at White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico and which is currently visible in the nighttime sky.
Several other American scientists will be accompanying Hale to Iran. Among these is former astronaut Bruce McCandless, co-developer of the Manned Maneuvering Unit used by Space Shuttle astronauts during the 1980s and the subject of a famous photograph with this device — almost an icon of the space age — taken during Mission STS 41-B in 1984.  He was also heavily involved in the development of the Hubble Space Telescope, and was a member of the crew that deployed it in 1990. "With the very significant contributions that can be made by amateur astronomers around the world and the excellent conditions in Iran," says McCandless, "it is important to include the members of the Adib Society and other Iranian astronomical groups in the mainstream of scientific discussion and participation."
Members of the Adib Society have spent several months organizing the conference, which, in addition to the American scientists, will include participants from several European and Asian countries as well as many astronomers from within Iran. "Like many western countries, there are many active amateur astronomy groups in Iran. Due to the vast area of the country and lack of communication among these groups, they are not aware of the work of each other. Bringing these groups together is one of the purposes of this gathering," comments Alizera Mehrani, President of the Adib Society. "Furthermore, the gathering brings astronomers from different countries together in order to share recent findings in the field and provide for future mutual cooperation among these astronomers." In addition to scientific sessions, the conference includes some presentations to the general public by conference participants, and viewing of Comet LINEAR and other celestial objects from the clear desert skies of Iran.
For Hale, the trip has an added personal significance. "By an interesting coincidence, I’ll be in Iran attending this conference on the 5-year anniversary of my discovery of Hale-Bopp," he notes. "I’m grateful that I’m able to use my fortunate discovery in order to advance international collaboration in scientific research and education." While in Iran Hale plans to post updates from the trip to the Southwest Institute’s web site at the URL
The trip was made possible by the assistance of Search for Common Ground, a Washington D.C. based nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging conflict resolution and facilitating people-to-people exchanges. Search for Common Ground has assisted in several exchanges between Americans and Iranians, including a highly publicized tour of Iran by an American wrestling team in 1998, and the visit to Iran by Hale’s group last year.
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