Yes, you can still see Comet Holmes

It is a lovely clear night (at last), and I just walked out to see what was new with this astronomical celebrity. Expect that in the future Comet Holmes will be called The Great Comet of 2007. Everything you need to see the comet (except clear weather and a pair of binoculars) is in the next pane. [If you cannot see the rest of this article, please click the title… ]

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The bane of comet hunters (after foul weather) is the Moon. Right now it is dazzling and high overhead. Without the Moon, all you would have to do is look toward the constellation of Perseus and you could not miss the comet.

Now, with the Moon, you will probably need some optical assistance. I used my old 7×50 pair of binoculars, and the comet was easy to see. I then tried an inexpensive pair of 8×21 binoculars, and while I could glimpse the comet, it would take a practiced observer to be delighted with the observation. So, you really need the kind of aid that they call a night glass.

To make it easy for you, here are two star maps suitable for printing. They both show the NNE sky at 8:30 PM Nov. 22. The first map shows that whole area of the sky. By 8:30 Mars has risen and is brilliant and amber. The next bright star above it is Capella. Looking almost overhead, the next medium-bright star is Mirfak — the brightest star in the constellation of Perseus. The comet is right above Mirfak. The second map shows the field of view of 7×50 binoculars with Mirfak and Comet Holmes near the centre. What more do you need?

The amazing thing about observing the comet is that it is big! Tonight it is at a distance of 1.654 Astronomical Units. An AU is the distance to the Sun, so it is quite far away from us. What you will see is a large indistinct ball of light — as if someone erased a little bit of the black of the sky. That ball is as big as the full Moon, so the cloud of material that makes up the comet is huge.

If you track the comet from night to night, you will see that it changes its position somewhat compared to the stars. You might enjoy plotting its track on that second star map.


3 Responses to “Yes, you can still see Comet Holmes”

  1. 1 Robert November 21, 2007 at 9:44 pm

    After observing the comet tonight, I wrote this blog entry as quickly as I could. I don’t think that I conveyed how impressed I was. When I used my planetarium program to show me the position of the comet, I learned that it is 1.654 AU away. And from my own observation I could see that it was at least as large as the Moon in the sky. Both the Moon and the Sun subtend about 1/2 degree in the sky.

    So, here is what dawned on me. The comet looks as large as the Sun in the sky, but it is over 1-1/2 times farther away than the Sun. The cloud of material which makes up the comet that you can observe must actually be much larger than the Sun! The comet is stellar in size, and right now, is by far the largest object in our solar system.

  1. 1 Observe Comet Holmes! « Salish Sea Trackback on November 22, 2007 at 8:35 am
  2. 2 Where in the solar system is Comet Holmes? « Salish Sea Trackback on November 22, 2007 at 7:39 pm

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