Thursday, November 8, 2007

Golden Comet Holmes

This past Saturday Beeps and I were at a really fun bonfire out in Unionville. Unionville is just far enough from West Chester to see a clear starry night. So of course, like the star geek I am, I took my binoculars.

At one point I left the bonfire and walked into the yard to look at the stars. I was facing northeast and noticed a blurry round shape in the constellation Perseus. I looked and thought it was a galaxy I had never seen before. It was bright and perfectly round. I called several people over and we all looked. It was fun to share the experience with a group of people. Some who had never looked at the night sky with binoculars.

Enlarge this picture to find it in the night sky:

The next day, still puzzled, I referenced several books I had to see what the heck it might be. But alas, there was no reference to a galaxy in that constellation. The next day my Dad left me a voice mail about "a comet in the northeast." Today I Googled "November comet" and eureka! The Golden Comet Holmes is our newest galactic visitor.

Here's what NASA has to say about it: Surprising Comet Holmes remains easily visible as a round, fuzzy cloud in the northern constellation Perseus. Skywatchers with telescopes, binoculars, or those that just decide to look up can enjoy the solar system's latest prodigy as it glides about 150 million kilometers from Earth, beyond the orbit of Mars. Still expanding, Holmes now appears to be about 1/3 the size of the Full Moon, and many observers report a yellowish tint to the dusty coma. A golden color does dominate this telescopic view recorded on November 1, showing variations across the coma's bright central region. But where's the comet's tail? Like any good comet, Holmes' tail would tend to point away from the Sun. That direction is nearly along our line-of-sight behind the comet, making its tail very difficult to see.

So if you have a chance, head outside on a clear night and look to the northeast right under the constellation Cassiopeia (the big W on its side) and you'll see a round fuzzy blob.

Good hunting!