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Monday, October 29, 2007

COMET HOLMES

Image courtesy of Wikipedia



This may make the news soon ***(if it hasn't already). If it hasn't, then you've heard it first here!

A strange thing is happening in the sky above us.
The Comet "Holmes" which orbits the sun every seven years has JUST THIS WEEK intensified in brightness approximately a million times (possibly due to gases being ejected from its body - no flatulence jokes here please)!
In the space of 2 days it has gone from magnitude 17 (pretty well invisible, certainly to the naked eye) to 2.8 - visible NOW even under city-polluted night skies and with a near-full moon pretty close to it. In fact there are only 175 stars brighter than this comet in the night sky at present.
No-one knows for sure why it has suddenly "flared up", and no-one knows for sure what will happen next - but if it continues in this manner, you won't be able to ignore it in the sky at night...

Anna and I trained our astronomical telescope on it last night and it is really exciting to see! It looks like a big fuzzy star.

You might remember Comet Halle-Bopp that hung around in the western sky (in Britain) a decade or so ago - very bright, very obvious (even at dusk) and with an obvious tail.
Well, Holmes is not so obvious and is only just forming a tail - so like I said, it looks like a big fuzzy star at present - but it is certainly worth having a peep at, even with your naked eyes, or better still, a pair of binoculars.

Want to find it?
Ok. In Britain, at around 9pm (with a clear night sky) stand facing ENE. Look up about 30degrees and you'll see one of my favourite stars, the beautifully bright red/blue twinkly star Capella (the "She goat given to the baby Zeus" in Greek myth), in the constellation Auriga (the "Charioteer").
Continue to look up, higher than Capella, and let your eyes drift marginally, slowly to the right and as the constellation Perseus comes into view you'll catch sight of this large, fuzzy, quite bright star. Only its not a star. Its comet Holmes.
Google it to get a constellation map if you're still unsure, but I guarantee you f you have a clear night sky and let your eyes become accustomed to the dark before searching, if you face ENE and look up, you'll see it, even with just your naked eyes and no binoculars or telescope. NB At present, the nearly full moon is just to the right of the comet, and inevitably drains some of its brightness.

A really wonderful sight - and very rare.
Take a look for yourselves...


(More information and photographs can be found HERE)

*** NB. 31/10/07 (2 days later), and the BBC have it as newsworthy. Click on the BBC science news feed at the bottom of the main page of "Blue-Grey", or if the link has gone by the time you read this.... HERE.

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