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Comet Holmes

British Astronomer Edwin Holmes (1842-1919) doesn’t show up in the Oxford DNB, but his comet is exploding, just as it did on the night of November 6, 1892, when he discovered it. Holmes was watching the night sky with a telescope, and noting his observations of Jupiter, when much to his surprise the comet swam into sight.

This month Comet 17P/Holmes brightened by a factor of 600,000 in less than 24 hours. A spherical and luminous cloud surrounding its core makes it appear larger than Jupiter. It has been seen in the northeast night sky in places as far apart as Ireland and Oregon.

I just stepped outside with binoculars, not expecting to see much because the moon had risen. I swept the bins over the dark northeast sky where a few stars could be seen, and was dumbfounded when a little fuzzy, glowing ball, about the size of a large pea shone out at me – Holmes’s comet!

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Image: © 2007 Chris Peterson

When I saw the comet tonight, it looked like this, but silvery white. Its softness, as if snow were falling, contrasted with the minute brightness of the stars.


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