Friday, November 2, 2007
A Naked Eye Comet!
"Comet Holmes brightens almost a million times" read the headlines on October 25th. Almost overnight a comet difficult to find in very good telescope made itself visible in the night sky. I strained to spot the naked eye comet in the constellation Perseus. According to an article I read, it would appear as a fuzz ball. I didn't see a fuzz ball, but I did see a star that didn't belong in Perseus. Sure enough, a look through my binoculars revealed a big fuzzy ball with a bright center - Comet Holmes. It wasn't until the following night, as the comet continued to brighten, that without the aid of binoculars, I spotted the fuzz ball where its star-like imposter had been the night before.
It is expected to remain visible with the naked eye for the next couple of weeks, possibly continuing to brighten. You can spot it, too, if you know where to look. In the early evening look to the northeast for Cassiopeia, which appears to be the letter W standing on its side. Perseus is located below Cassiopeia and slightly to the east. Part of the constellation forms a triangle. Look to the bottom left point of the triangle. It may look like a star or a fuzzy patch depending on your eyesight and the darkness of the sky. That is Comet Holmes. Binoculars reveal that it is not your typical comet. It has no tail; it is circular with a bright center. If you have problems finding it, use binoculars to slowly sweep the general area until it comes into view. It is so bright and round, that you will know immediately that it is not a star.
Spaceweather.com has an impressive photo gallery of Comet Holmes photos taken by amateur astronomers from all over the world. Most of these are from the northern hemisphere, but I noticed some Australia.
By the way, if you have never seen the Andromeda Galaxy, this would be a good time to do so! Andromeda is marked in the sky chart. Again, use Cassiopeia as your guide. From the most northerly star (the top), look east (to the right) until you see a fuzzy patch. If your eyesight doesn't permit or your sky is not dark enough, use binoculars. You won't be able to miss it.
I made this star chart using the free software, Cartes du Ciel.
Cartes du Ciel
Free program to draw sky charts
For use with Windows 95/98/NT/2000/XP