What's up Holmes (Comet)?

Posted Updated
Location of Comet Holmes
Jesse Richuso
I’m blogging from San Francisco today – where it has been mostly cloudy for the past few days. Even if I could see the stars, the view of the night sky wouldn’t be noticeably different than North Carolina’s, since the Raleigh and San Francisco are at similar latitudes (36 degrees and 38 degrees, respectively).

Morehead Planetarium and Science Center’s next monthly skywatching session is this Saturday, November 10 from 6-8 p.m. As usual, the session will be held at Jordan Lake’s Ebenezer Church Recreation Area. This month we are also holding a special skywatching session together with CHAOS (Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society) on Friday, November 9 from 7-9 p.m. at Little River Regional Park. For directions and more information, please visit Morehead’s skywatching session webpage.

What’s up with this comet?

A comet has skywatchers around the world buzzing. Comet Holmes drastically increased in brightness between October 23 and 24, 2007. It went from being a 17th magnitude object (completely invisible to the naked eye, and requiring a large telescope to see) to a 2.5 magnitude object (a pretty bright star) in only 42 hours.

Comets get brighter as they get closer to the Sun. Solar radiation reflects off the comet and its dusty tail and also causes the gas emitted by the comet to glow. Comet Holmes got very bright very quickly because it released a big cloud of dust.

How to find it

To find Comet Holmes, you can go outside at just about any time of night for the next few weeks. The comet is in the constellation Persius, which is in the Northeastern sky in the evening, high overhead around midnight, then high in the Northwestern in the early morning hours before sunrise. The most recognizable constellation near Persius is Cassiopeia, the queen. She makes a “W” shape with five bright stars. Once you find Cassiopeia, look just to the east, and you’ll find both Persius and Comet Holmes.

Right now, the comet doesn’t have much of a tail, but that could change as the weeks go on. Take a look at it every evening, and see how it changes over time.

For more detailed information on Comet Holmes and how to find it, I recommend the Wikipedia page and Sky and Telescope page dedicated to the comet.

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