A formerly very dim comet called Holmes (17P) flared up October 24th growing many magnitudes brighter. It's currently outside the orbit of Mars and in the southern portion of the constellation Perseus. Last night, following a day of clouds, mist, and rain, I stepped outside to a clearing sky. It took me only a second to find Holmes and view it through my 10X50 binoculars. It was a beautiful sight, though to the uninitiated, it's just a big fuzzball. That is, of course, how it looked… a large, brightly glowing puff with a bright dot in the center — how comets look "head-on" with any tail streaming behind and away from the viewer. The glow was slightly yellow or golden… quite an unusual object. Nobody's sure how long the flareup will last –heck, it was totally unexpected– but it's got the astronomical community all excited which, by itself, has been a lot of fun. For the record, Comet 17P was serendipitously discovered by Edwin Holmes back in 1892. He had been observing Jupiter and some double stars when he happened across "his" comet when aiming his 32-cm (12.6-inch) reflector towards the Andromeda Galaxy (or "nebula," back then) to finish up for the night. So his surprise then is a surprise and delight to us today.
I'll be going out to the observatory tonight to take a good look at this comet and try to get some images. We'll see if anyone else shows up there … I've notified the astronomy class and put a notice on our Web site. It should be fun, regardless. One sees only just so many comets in a lifetime and I want to make the most of this one!
I tried to find it last night but could not. I don't have the best N/NE view so it's tough. I will give it another try tonight.
There are good spotting charts at Spaceweather.com, SkyAndTelescope.com, and Astronomy.com. The comet is "low" in Perseus but, of course, rises as the night progresses. My own view to the northeast is not so good, either, but at 11 PM Holmes was well above neighboring houses and trees — even got a peek at Mars just above the horizon! Anyway, if you know the sky at all you'll have no trouble spotting this one especially if you use binoculars. — JG
I think I took a picture of Mars last night….here is a link (the lens flare is from the moon, it was very bright last night:http://bostonwolf.smugmug.com/photos/213824582-X2.jpgthis was facing more to the north, maybe NNW
Hi Jeff. I can't make out enough of the sky to tell exactly what you've got there. If you were facing east or northeast (not northwest) you may very well have caught Mars rising, say at about 11:00 PM Sunday. A little farther to the south red giant Betelgeuse was rising – a "shoulder" in the constellation Orion. Judging by the angle of the lens flare, however, I'm thinking you were looking east and got Mars. Glad you got out to enjoy the night! — JG