Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Comet Holmes visits the 433rd!

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While I'm an avid amateur astronomer, for one reason or another I have never been lucky with comets. Either they or I have been in the wrong place or time and not linked up. In 1986, I saw Comet Halley in the Caribbean. It was not impressive. Comet Kohoutek was a major dud.

Tonight I came to our pack meeting opportunistically armed with some basic information about Comet Holmes, a camera tripod, and a pair of 11x70 binoculars. By around 8pm the cloud cleared off and both Cassiopeia and Aurigae were visible. I went out to the church parking lot and looked high up in the north east through the light pollution of Toronto.

Comet Holmes is unusual in that it is brightening as it moves away from the Sun. With its tail pointing away from us, we see only the head of it straight on. The comet itself is about 2km in diameter, yet the gas cloud forming its head is well over 1 million km across, almost as large as as the Sun.

I quickly found the nice little jewel box of stars in the core of Perseus and nearly jumped out of my skin! The thing is huge and right where it was supposed to be. Faint in the city sky, fuzzy, absolutely amazing, and visible from a parking lot under street lights. Within minutes I could see a hint of it unaided. Better still, every Cub present was able to see it and score a requirement for their astronomy badge!

Update 2007-11-17: Holmes is now the largest thing in the solar system - Incredible Comet Bigger than the Sun.

Update 2008-2-6: Here are two composite images of Comet Holmes that may be of interest.
This multiple exposure shot shows how Homes chanes and moves over time.
This shot shows Holmes from Earth and a close up of the head taken by the Hubble.

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