Comet Holmes

If you haven’t tried to observe outbursting Comet Holmes (17P) yet, you really should! This comet is putting on an unusual show in the northern hemisphere’s night sky. Northern hemisphere observers will be able to spot it as a bright fuzzy star (now growing to almost half the apparent diameter of the Full Moon) in Perseus. A good pair of binoculars will show its bright round fuzzy nucleus best.

To locate it, scour along a line between the bright star Capella in Auriga and Mirfak in Perseus. Through a pair of 10×50 binoculars it is quite possible to find the fuzzy white orb of Holmes amongst the background stars.

Over the past few weeks the comet has dramatically risen to naked eye visibility with a million fold increase in brightness. What’s odd about this comet though is that it is brightening as it moves away from the Sun. Normally comets brighten as they approach it! Astronomers are not sure what might have caused the incredible outburst. It may have been caused by a collision with a small rocky object (a meteoroid) or a sudden collapse and subsequent exposure of parts of the comet’s icy surface.

Current estimates have the comet at roughly magnitude 2.5, well within naked-eye visibility. So weather permitting you will be able catch a glimpse of this intriguing celestial visitor as it heads away from the Sun.

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