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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

 

In which I finally get to see Comet Holmes

I finally saw comet 17P/Holmes. In between cloud and getting another blasted cold I was just missing out on views of the comet. Then I staggered out at 3:00 am and the sky was clear. Grabbing the binoculars and my trusty camera I raced (well waddled slowly, trying to avoid bumping into things in the dark) down the beach.

Joy! Happiness! The northern horizon was free from cloud for once. But not sky glow, following the stars of Perseus down showed that the comet was located just above the glow of the harbour. Not the worst glow, over the big cranes, but still non-negligible.
The comet was not visible to the unaided eye, but then, Holmes turned out to be only two fingerwidths above the horizon, and even alpha Persii, Mirfak, was difficult to see at magnitude 1.8.

But through binoculars, the comet was perfectly visible. It looked like 47 Tucana, a perfect misty sphere. I was entranced. Even though I had the good fortune to see comet McNaught, with its spectacular tail, this little blob, possibly the most unusual comet recently, held my attention. This disk of light exploded from obscurity and is still bright weeks later. Why? A mystery not yet solved.

And so my cold came back big time, probably due to standing out in the windy cold watching the comet. Why do we amateur astronomers do this too ourselves? Are we insane? Most people would say yes, but then these are the people who will get up at 3:00 am to watch peope kick a ball around on a small screen. This is a puzzle, as the eminent entomologyist Mike Majerus remarked, kids will spend hours collecting and memorizing endless lists of Pokemon, and that's normal, kids who memorize moths and butterflies (or dinosaurs), are seen as weird. Why is this? Everyone is beholden to some passion, but those of us who have a passion for the natural world are seen as strange.

That is an issue for another post some day, but now, pleased that I can share my experience of comet Holmes, I must take my drugs and go back to bed.

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Comments:
he he, brilliant story. you finally caught a glimpse of holmes.It really is such a cool sight.i wasn't majorly interested in astronomey until i dusted off my national geographic binocs and went searching for holmes 2 weeks ago. much easier for me though with it being almost 90 degrees straight up with no light polution around me, didnt have half as much of an adventure as you did.(although i think i said in a previous post of yours, how i nearly broke me neck walking backwards in the garden while lookinng up) not advised by the way.

Damo.
Ireland
 
How fantastic, apart from the cold. You saw it at 3am, I'm in Darwin, if I take my binocs out tonight should I be looking at 2am?

Cheers
 
Honey, you should be looking around 1.30 am now. The comet is close to alpha Persii, Mirfak, so it might be hard to see against the glare of this star.

Damo, great you could see it. Yes, walking backwards in the garden is not recommended.
 
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