Comet Holmes

There's an unexpectedly bright comet visible in our skies.  It's called "Comet Holmes."

I just came back from viewing it from my front porch.  It's pretty far from earth, so it will appear virtually motionless agaisnt the background stars, even as you look from day to day.  So it should be in more or less the same part of the sky for the next few weeks.  Can't be sure how long it will stay bright, though.

At about 9pm, look to the northeast.  The bright star you see is called Capella.  Up about fifteen degrees (2 1/2 "fist-widths") and a little to the right, there's the comet [Because of the way the sky seems to revolve around the North Star, if you look for the comet much before 9pm, you should look a bit more to the right of "above Capella"; if you look much after 9pm, look to the left of "above Capella"].

To your naked eye, it will appear to be the bottom left hand of a triangle of stars.  In your binoculars, the comet will look like a bright fuzzy ball.  No tail is visible because the earth is basically between the comet and the sun.  Because comet tails always point away from the sun, the tail is pouring out behind the "coma," or fuzzy part of the comet that we can see.

If you can't see the comet with your naked eye, use your binoculars.  Center Capella, then move the binoculars so that Capella is to the left side of your field of view.  Then sweep the binoculars straight up, and you should run right across the comet.  You're looking for a little fuzzy ball.

You can get additional information at, the webpage for Sky and Telescope magazine.

Comet Holmes

Walking back home from the bus stop this evening, just about 10pm, the comet was again easily visible to the naked eye (although more as a fuzzy star than what you normally expect a comet to look like).

As I edited above, the later it is, the more to the right (rather than left) of "above Capella" the comet will apper.

There's a chance we'll have a Sidewalk Astronomy night in Monrovia on Saturday.  Problem is that the comet won't clear the buildings in the area until probably after 9pm.  So we may decide that's too late.  Anyway, if we decide to go, I'll post about it here.

[Added 11/1: Yep, the Old Town Astronomers will be out in Monrovia on Saturday evening. Come on by a bit later than normal (say, around 8-9pm, I think) and we should be able to give you a telescopic view of this dirty snowball].

Sidewalk Astronomy, November 17, 2007

+     Comet Holmes is definitely getting dimmer.  It's much harder to see now than it was last week.

+     BTW, Sidewalk Astronomers will be out in Monrovia (corner of Myrtle and Lime) again this Saturday (November 17).  In addition to the moon, we hope to be showing views of Comet Holmes.  The view will not be great, but if you haven't seen it, yet, this'll be your last chance.

+     To find it yourself, look to the northeast an hour or so after sunset.  It's still in the same area as it was before.  So either look directly above Capella (the brightest star to the northeast), or start with Cassiopeia, a constellation that includes five stars that trace a large "W" or "M" in the sky.  This constellation is high to the north/northeast.  From Cassiopeia, scan to the right (east).

+     Whether going up from Capella or right from Cassiopeia, you should run into a moderately bright star.  That star is called "Mirfak."  Comet Holmes is now quite close to Mirfak.  If you're viewing from a spot outside of the direct glare of street lights or house lights, your binoculars should show a big fuzzy "scrubbing bubble"-shaped object just to the lower left of Mirfak.  That's the comet "coma," or dust cloud.

+     The dust cloud is over 100,000 miles in diameter, but all of this dust that you're viewing is coming from a little, rocky, icy object that's probably only a mile or so in diameter.  That's the comet's nucleus.

+     To get to our Sidewalk Astronomy location from Rosemead, go north to Huntington Blvd.  Then take it east about four miles, past the 210 freeway (take care when the street makes it's little jig, past the race track and hospital, that you stay on Huntington and don't get diverted on some other street by accident).  You can also get on the 210 freeway and exit on Myrtle.  When you hit Myrtle, go north (left).

+     If you took the freeway, you'll cross Huntington in about 1/2 mile.  If you took Huntington, you'll hit "Old Town" in about 1/2 mile.  Shortly after the Krikorian movie theater, you'll reach Lime.  Turn left on Lime and start looking for parking.  You should see the telescopes set up at the northeast corner of Myrtle and Lime.  We'll probably set up around dusk and stay until 9pm or so.  If we stay later, there's a slight chance we'll get an early peek at Mars.  Otherwise, Mars viewing starts at our next Sidewalk date, likely in middle December.