THE BLOG

Extremely Cool Naked-Eye Comet

10/28/2007 11:26 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Take a break from stances, finances, and romances, and go outside.

Seriously. Right now, there is a naked-eye comet gracing our skies. Usually, comets are far too faint to see. Comet 17/P Holmes, more than 150 million miles from Earth, is usually no exception. Up until October 25 it was about one ten-thousandth as bright as the faintest star you can see. But on that day something happened on the comet-- probably, a sink hole opened up. Sunlight warmed the material at the bottom of this pit, turning it from a solid directly into a gas.

2007-10-29-cometholmes_oct282007.jpg

When this happened, the comet erupted! Debris shut out of the hole in the surface, expanded, and caught the sunlight, brightening the comet by nearly a million-fold. It is now easily visible in the constellation Perseus, which is up high enough in the northwest to see easily by 8:00 at night. I have a map on my site showing you where to look.

I have been writing about this comet extensively on my blog, where I have more pictures and even video. You can go to SpaceWeather as well for some fantastic pictures. The one above I took myself less than an hour before I wrote this entry. The time exposure blurred it a bit, but you can see it's a big, bright object. The yellowish tint is real; the dust in the debris reflects sunlight to us.

If you live near an observatory or a University, go find out if they have public viewings! The Moon is rising later every night, so the next few days are perfect to try for this rare event.