Credit & Copyright: Eric Allen Observatoire du Cégep de Trois-Rivières
Go outside tonight and see Comet Holmes. No binoculars or telescopes are needed -- just curiosity and a sky map. Last week, Comet 17P/Holmes underwent an unusual outburst that vaulted it unexpectedly from obscurity into one of the brightest comets in recent years. Sky enthusiasts from the northern hemisphere have been following the comet's progress closely.
Pictured above Quebec, Canada, the coma of Comet Holmes has been noticeably expanding over the past few days. In the above picture, an image of Jupiter has been placed artificially nearby to allow for a comparison of angular sizes. Jupiter has been scaled to the size it would appear at the current location of Comet Holmes. How Comet Holmes will further evolve is unknown, with one possibility being that the expanding gas cloud that started from its recent outburst will slowly disperse and fade.
Comet Holmes in Outburst ( 2007 October 26)
Credit & Copyright: Babak Tafreshi and (inset) Alan Friedman
Comet 17P/Holmes stunned comet watchers across planet Earth earlier this week. On October 24, it increased in brightness over half a million times in a matter of hours. The outburst transformed it from an obscure and faint comet quietly orbiting the Sun with a period of about 7 years to a naked-eye comet rivaling the brighter stars in the constellation Perseus. Recorded on that date, this view from Tehran, Iran highlights the comet's (enhanced and circled) dramatic new visibility in urban skies.
The inset (left) is a telescopic image from a backyard in Buffalo, New York showing the comet's greatly expanded coma, but apparent lack of a tail. Holmes' outburst could be due to a sudden exposure of fresh cometary ice or even the breakup of the comet nucleus. The comet may well remain bright in the coming days.