AstroNews FALL 2007 | COMET HOLMES SPECIAL

 

Up This Month
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See Comet Holmes Tonight!
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The strangest comet to burst onto the celestial scene in our lifetime is a MUST SEE! And it is easy to see with your bare eyes — even if your sky is fairly light-polluted! You just have to know where to look for this amazing fuzzball. See below for instructions!

Between October 23 and 25, 2007, the comet’s brightness increased from 17th magnitude to 2nd (a smaller number indicates a brighter source) -- a factor of one MILLION. It is now a fuzzy light-yellow ball brighter than most stars you can see with the naked eye. How can this happen? Astronomers actually don't know why!

The tiny, solid nucleus puffed out a huge cloud of dust, and this dust is lit by sunlight. As the dust cloud spread out wider, the comet started to look like a tiny, round disk. The disk has been getting a bit wider every night, as the dust spreads.

The comet has not developed a tail, however, because it is too far from the Sun. As a result, it is difficult to distinguish from a true star. Binoculars or a small telescope reveal a bit of fuzziness around its edges.

Learn more:
http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/home/10862521.html



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AstroTip
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How To Find Comet Holmes in the Evening Sky
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The following applies to people living in the world’s northern latitudes. If you’re in the tropics or the Southern Hemisphere, use an sky chart such as this one:
http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/skychart/

Comet Holmes is in the constellation Perseus, the hero. Perseus is high in the northeast in early evening and passes almost directly overhead in the wee hours of the morning.

Conditions couldn't better for seeing Comet Holmes. All you need are clear skies. And try to find whatever binoculars or telescope you can lay your hands on.

A few hours after sunset, find a spot where bright lights don’t glare into your eyes, and face northeast. Give your eyes a few minutes to adjust to the darkness.

Look for Cassiopeia, the W-shaped constellation, which is a landmark of the autumn sky. The W is standing on end and as wide as your fist held at arm’s length.

Look to the lower right of Cassiopeia by about a fist and a half at arm’s length to find Perseus. The brightest star in Perseus is Mirfak (also called Alpha Persei).
Nov. 19th is a good night to look: The comet will glide by Mirfak and appear to swallow it--a sight not to be missed!

If you are not familiar with constellations you can consult a good star chart.

To track Holmes use a finder chart such as the one here:
http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/home/10862521.html



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DISTANT DISCOVERIES
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WHY IS IT CALLED COMET HOLMES?
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Comet what?? Comet Holmes!

In case you have not heard, Comet Holmes is a comet that is exciting astronomers around the world.

It was discovered over a hundred years ago by amateur astronomer Edwin Holmes. Back in 1892 it flared up enough for Holmes to find it.

And now, without warning, the distant ball of rock and ice has flared up again. Don't miss it!



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FAR OUT FACT
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COMET HOLMES IS BIGGER THAN THE SUN!
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Our sun used to be the largest object in the Solar System.

Now, Comet Holmes holds that distinction.

A team of Hawaii astronomers measured the diameter of the comet's expanding debris cloud: 1.4 million kilometers, slightly larger than the sun itself. Wow!