Observe Comet Holmes!

On October 23 Comet Holmes suddenly, and explosively, increased in brightness. Within a day it became almost a million times brighter. If the clouds would vanish, you could go out and see it tonight. Story and star maps in the next pane. [Click the title if you cannot see the rest of this article… ]

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Since comets are variable in brightness, I cannot predict what you will see when you go to observe. But lately the comet has been almost as bright as the stars of the Big Dipper. No tail has been reported, so it looks like a little fuzzy ball of light. I recommend that you use binoculars — especially the kind that have large lenses such as 7x50s.

There is every reason to think this will be a feature of the sky for several days (even weeks) to come. The comet has an interesting history. Edwin Holmes spotted it first, in 1892. Since then it has made 16 trips around the Sun. Apparently the comet flared up twice in the year that it was discovered. Some folks are hoping to observe more drama from this year’s event.

The maps show the path of the comet in the sky from today, November 6 to the night when the bright moon will probably hide the comet on November 24. The moon is in that position only for November 24. This comet very well placed for anyone in the Northern Hemisphere.

Click on the links to see the maps:

Cassiopeia and Comet Holmes

Orion and Comet Holmes

Edited to add: new maps suitable for printing here. Observing will be easy for folks who can recognize the stars of the constellation called Perseus.


5 Responses to “Observe Comet Holmes!”

  1. 1 Dona November 6, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Hi Robert

    This is interesting stuff! Have you sen the early dawn skies earlier this week? There were some wonderful juxtapositons of the waning moon and Venus(?). I sure would like to know if the neighboring triangle of bright stars is a constellation.

    Cheers, Dona

  2. 2 Robert November 6, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    Dona, we provide a complete service at this blog. Yes Venus has been in the morning sky. And Saturn too. The only other bright star in that direction is the brightest star in the constellation of Leo: Regulus. Farther around to the south you probably saw Procyon in the constellation of the Small Dog. At 6 AM the elusive Mercury is rising, but with the mountains in the way, it will be hard for you to spot. It will at its highest in the dawn sky on November 8th – so you might see it. It is actually fairly well placed for the rest of the month.

    Here is a map of the dawn sky on November 2. If you can see the sky over the next week or so, the Moon will be gone, but the other objects will still be there.

    The Sky at 6 AM November 2nd from the Salish Sea

  3. 3 Alex Shapiro November 10, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    I’ve been an amateur astronomer for many years (emphasis on amateur, with the additional adjective of “giddy”). A comet like this is a great gift to the eyes and imagination. And yet, I have yet to see it, due to overcast night skies here above Friday Harbor. Funny; we’ve had a few glorious sunny days including today, and yet the clouds gather with the nighttime. Funnier still: as you know, we get less than half the amount of rain that you do! One would think that a clear sky wouldn’t be that hard to find here on San Juan Island. I keep looking…

    One of the greatest thrills for me back in the 90’s was when comet Shoemaker-Levy pummeled the gaseous face of Jupiter. With my 10″ Schmidt-Cassegrain deep sky scope I watched this amazing event live, along with so many pro astronomers around the world, and every [rapid!]rotation of Jupiter brought with it another dark new “hole”– a fresh black spot easily visible through the lens from a new impact. It was just an astonishing thing, to realize that I was watching (albeit time-delayed!) something of this magnitude happen to a distant planet.

    I think a lot of us can benefit from some perspective; a reminder of things far more expansive than our daily lives. If this doesn’t provide it, I dunno what does.


  4. 4 Robert November 11, 2007 at 9:42 am

    Alex, I have not seen the comet either.

    I even live on the rainy side (eastern) of Bowen Island. When I lived on the western side of Bowen, it was so much dryer that we called it the south end of the Sunshine Coast. It was. The micro-climates around here are one of the (many) amazing features of this region. There was little discussion of the subject when I lived in eastern and central Canada.

    With the aid of your 10″ glass eye you will probably have many wonderful views of this comet. Can you attach a camera? I’d love to see some pictures of it taken from Friday Harbor.

  5. 5 Alex Shapiro November 11, 2007 at 11:01 am

    Alas, my 10″ glass eye didn’t follow my smaller fleshy ones up to the islands from California. And even that powerful a viewer still can’t cut through pea soup! Sky & Telescope and other astro-mags have been running some great pix, though. Thank goodness for armchair astronomy.

    The micro-climes are constantly fascinating. Often I’ll look at the radar during a report of inclement weather, and see that it’s pouring over Seattle, pouring over Salt Spring, pouring over Vancouver, yet a big dry hole floats over the San Juans– especially the southern part of the island where I am. This is endlessly amusing, until I chat with a Salt Spring friend on the phone, report my dry day and am greeted with sounds of “grrrrrr” and mumbles about 36 inches of rain a year there….!

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