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Rhetoretician -- Fiction etc.

Comet Holmes

Comet Holmes

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obie119, bless her enlarged heart, pointed out that there always seems to be an astronomical event when the Red Sox win a championship.  In particular, she pointed out something I hadn't known -- that a run-of-the-mill comet suddenly flared up last week, becoming visible to the naked eye and quite spectacular in a telescope.  It went from magnitude 17 to magnitude 2.5 all at once.  And it's still going strong.

So tonight I lugged the telescope outside and pointed it into the northeastern sky -- and sure enough, there it was, Comet 17P/Holmes, appearing in my eyepiece as a fuzzy sphere with a bright flake in its center.  The coma is more than 8 arcminutes wide as of last night -- which is astonishing when you consider that the object is now about halfway between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.  The coma must be huge, at least 300,000 miles across.

It should be visible all night in the northern hemisphere for days yet.  Find the Seven Sisters, then go up and to the left by about 18 degrees (call it twice the size of your fist at arm's length) until you find the bright star Algol (in the constellation Perseus).  To the left of Algol by about 9 degree (one fist) is the star Mirfak.  The comet is to the lower-left of Mirfak, at a distance about the width of three of your fingers at arm's length.  The comet looks fuzzy, that is, it looks like it's out of focus the way an object is behind a cloud -- that's because you are seeing a cloud, a cloud that's 150 million miles away!
  • Ooo! "You interest me strangely..." as the man said. I'll certainly look for it, when cloud cover permits. The last time I had good sight of a comet I lived in another part of the country where it was much darker and more conducive to such viewings.
    • Comets are neat because they're so ephemeral. Most of 'em you'll never get another chance to see. So far, the one that most knocked my socks off was Hyakutake in 1996. That Spring I stood in my driveway looking up with my mouth open for hours.
  • Yah! Another Space Geek! (you should come visit me at work sometime!)
    • So now you have to tell me what "work" is.
      • I work at Space Camp, which is on the campus of the US Space and Rocket Center. Space Geek's heaven!

        BTW, a great site to use to keep track of celestial events is: heavens-above.com (don't forget the hyphen!). You can register your location and it will give you hour by hour sky maps and show you when there are going to be passes of satellites and the ISS. The coolest is when you get an ISS pass at the very time when the Shuttle is undocking. You can actually see the two objects separate!
  • Wish I was exited, too.

    I know, I know - but we've been having cloudy skies since it appeared! :-( The way the sky looks now, we won't get to see it tonight either. Lucky you who caught it.
  • David and I saw the comet yesterday. We saw the same thing you did. Fuzzy spere and all. The day before (or morning) David went out about 3AM, but it was too cloudy. Anyway that spere was the frist comet I've ever seen. We're going to try again tnight.
  • Heh, your directions are much better than how I think of it: look at Perseus and find the random star that shouldn't be there :)

    So glad you saw it - how great to have a comet hanging around!
    • *Snort.* I figured that most of my friends wouldn't know Perseus on sight, and certainly wouldn't know which star shouldn't be there. Indeed, the only reason I knew was because I lookd it up in a star chart. I don't think I'm likely to forget it now, though.
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