Friday, November 16, 2007

Watch Comet Holmes

A comet visable to the naked eye comes only onece every decade or so, and the view is even more impressive using binoculars. Be sure to check out Comet Holmes in the coming weeks. It can be found in the Northeastern sky in Perseus constellation. Here is more information from Astronomy:

For reasons astronomers don't entirely understand, the cosmic iceball flared in brightness by a million times in just 2.5 days. This outburst propelled the comet from a faint-fuzzy best viewed in a large amateur telescope to a star-like object observers throughout the Northern Hemisphere could easily see in a moonlit sky.

The comet subsequently expanded into a fuzzy patch and now rivals the Moon in size. Holmes has faded relatively little in terms of astronomers' brightness scale, where it now hovers near magnitude 3, but its light is spread out over a larger area.

Some observers dubbed 17P/Holmes the ultimate "urban comet." While it lacks a spectacular tail, the comet initially was easy to spot from urban locations, and it can still be seen visually in suburban areas. Take the time to observe it carefully. Visual observers may notice that it appears distinctly un-starlike. Low-power binoculars reveal a ghostly disk surrounding a bright center.

Amateurs who image Comet Holmes are finding detailed structures related to its recent blast of dust and gas. And, although Holmes is an old, relatively inactive comet, many observers now report just a hint of a bluish gas tail.

Comet Holmes currently lies 151 million miles (244 million km) from Earth and 234 million miles (377 million km) from the Sun. In early May, the comet reached its closest point to the Sun in its 6.88-year orbit. At that time, Holmes was about twice as far from the Sun as Earth. Since then, the comet has been increasing its solar distance. Earth, traveling on an inside lane of the solar system, passed Holmes November 5.

The comet lies about 50° high — halfway from the horizon to straight overhead — at 8 p.m. local time. It then appears about twice as high as the bright star Capella. For observers at mid-northern latitudes, the comet climbs directly overhead around local midnight.

Read it all here.

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