Monday, October 29, 2007

More on Amazing Comet 17P/Holmes

Comet 17P/Holmes just won't stop amazing us. Please check it out if you can. Last week, Comet 17P/Holmes shocked sky watchers around the world with a sudden million-fold increase in brightness. It literally exploded into view, rapidly becoming a naked eye "star" in the constellation Perseus. Following the comet's outburst last week, the comet's coma, or outer cloud of gas and dust, is now physically larger than the planet Jupiter and subtends an angle in the night sky similar to the Moon's Sea of Tranquility, the right eye of the "Man in the Moon."

I have learned that it was an explosion/eruption of gas and dust similar to this that allowed the comet to be discovered in 1892 by British astronomer Edwin Holmes. I also understand that this is an excellent imaging target for off-the-shelf digital cameras and backyard telescopes. At this point, no one knows how large the comet will become.

The comet is still located just to the East (left) of the constellation Perseus. If you are in the Tampa Bay area, Perseus will rise in the North East about 7PM and be completely above the horizon just after 8PM. Comet 17P/Holmes should be visible roughly to the East (left) of Epsilon Persei (the thigh of Perseus) which shines at magnitude 2.89.

BACKGROUND: Comet 17P/Holmes was discovered by British astronomer Edwin Holmes (1842-1919) on November 6, 1892 while conducting regular observations of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). The orbital specifics for the comet are as follows: Aphelion distance, 5.2004 AU; Perihelion distance, 2.1655 AU; Semi-major axis, 3.618 AU ; Eccentricity, 0.4120; Orbital period, 7.0679 a (Julian years, lasting 362.25 days); Inclination, 19.1877°; Last perihelion, May 4, 2007; Next perihelion (predicted), March 27, 2014.

For more details and new information, check out these Web pages:

Space Weather Home Page:

Space Weather Sky Chart:

Sky and Telescope Article:

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