Monday, October 29, 2007

In the Night Sky

“I think this is about the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in the sky!” ~Florian Boyd, Palm Springs, CA

"What a sight!” ~Alan Hale (co-discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp), Cloudcroft, NM

I didn’t know that an amazing phenomenon was taking place in the night skies until I was alerted by a scientist friend in Canada. Periodic Comet Holmes was acting just like its own little nonentity of a self only a week ago when suddenly, according to Sky and Telescope on Wednesday, October 24th, skywatchers looked up to see a bright new yellow-orange "star" shining in Perseus. For no apparent reason, the comet had brightened about a millionfold to shine at close to magnitude 2.5. That made it plain to see even in the bright moonlight and through all but the worst light pollution….It looked like no comet ever seen.

Luckily, the comet was still up there at the Red Sox’ victorious conclusion of the World Series last night. In spite of the bright moon, I was able to find Comet Holmes in the late evening (11 PM) northeast sky. I wasn’t too sure about what to look for until I came back inside to look again at Sky and Telescope’s Photo Gallery, then I realized that the comet was the bright orange-brown “star” I’d been seeing out the bedroom window for the past week.

“In ALL my years of observing...this is the most unusual comet, I have ever seen!” ~Dr. Sky

Here are some facts about the Comet:

-Comet Holmes is somewhere in the neighborhood of 152,000,000 miles from the Earth.

-The comet doesn’t have the characteristic comet tail. If one does form, it will be nearly away from us in space and will not be visible from here.

-The comet flared twice before, once in 1892 and again six months later in 1893.

-The only theoretical explanation that I could find for why the comet is flaring comes from Dr. Sky (Steve Kates, whose biography you can read at He theorizes that a chunk of the comet has broken off and has released a surge of ice and dust which is moving toward the sun.

-Spooky fact: The last time the Sox won the World Series we were in the middle of a total lunar eclipse (Sky and Telescope)

Read more about the comet and see the photographs that are being sent in from all around the world at Sky and Telescope:

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