Holmes eludes us

Well, I wish I had read about Comet Holmes earlier than yesterday! For those of you who haven’t heard, Holmes is normally an obscure comet that is not generally visible to the naked eye. However, it has been going through massive changes (erupting gas/dust on its surface) over the last month and now is quite visible to the naked eye, as the increase in reflective matter shines more sunlight back to us. It does not show a tail as is characteristic of most comet images we are familiar with, however recent long photographic exposures (such as the one below) are displaying that a faint tail does exist or is being formed. However, from our vantage point, we are looking down the tail as opposed to looking at its side, so it wouldn’t look “normal” even if it were there.

The news was just what I needed to motivate me to finally bring my telescope out of storage: a not-overly-impressive-but-just-right-for-us Orion 80mm refractor with equatorial mount that my wife gave me as a gift some time back. It was also an opportunity to explain to the kiddos how the different parts worked and to have them “help” me put it together (with an appropriate amount of “don’t touch that!” going on, of course).

Once it was finally put together and Holmes (just under the “shoulders” of Perseus in the NE sky) was at a point where it should be coming up over the trees behind our house, we all went outside to be greeted by a majestic view of… clouds. A line of clouds that began, actually, just at the bottom of Cassiopeia and therefore just a bit above where Holmes should have been resting. So, after a few minutes of showing the kids how to sight the telescope in and how to use the equatorial mount, we went back into the house in the hope that the clouds were just messing with us and not serious. They were serious, however, and before long the entire sky was covered.

So, we have left the telescope assembled, hoping that we will get a better shot tonight (though weather.com says we are due for more clouds). Go check it out yourself, tonight. Holmes is still visible to the naked eye and should look even better through some binoculars or even a moderately powerful telescope. It might be a good chance to have some of those Psalm 19 & Romans 1:20 sorts of meditations. If Holmes crashes into the earth unexpectedly in the manner of prophesied events such as Revelation 8:8 or 8:10, I’ll try to blog about that, too. (That was a joke, in the event some of you reading this are tempted to take it as a confirmation of anti-science Christian stereotypes…)

In the mean time, here are a couple of news articles on Holmes (which grow obsolete quickly, since it is changing so fast:

The best coverage, in my opinion, has been by Sky and Telescope, which include pictures and instructions on how to locate Holmes in the night sky. They have an abundance of information and photographs. Here are two of their articles where you can start:

3 thoughts on “Holmes eludes us

  1. I recently pulled out my modest Orion 205mm IntelliScope Dobsonian refractor to look at the comet. Quit an impressive little ball of dust. Of course, I didn’t see the tail, so I probably need to drag it outside again. Orion is peeking his head over the horizon again, so I might see if I can get anymore detail on its famous nebula. Since you’re so far out in the country, Mr. Smith, you’ll have to invite us out sometime and I’ll bring it along… I still haven’t been galaxy hunting with it yet.

  2. Howdy, Mike —

    Well, my telescope may only be 80mm, but it’s a minister’s telescope, which makes the stuff you look at through it seem more… um… ministery! So there!

    OK, back to reality… I don’t know if you would be able to see the tail or not. I got the impression from reading S&T that it was only showing up on long exposure photographs, but I certainly could be mistaken. And a visit out here sounds great! Though we’re not so “far out in the country” as I would like to be. We are close enough to a major highway, parking lots, and security lights that we get a fair amount of pollution ourselves, though probably less than you do.

    Have you already shown that new kiddo of y’all’s how to work your telescope? 🙂

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. You’re right… I’ll bring out my humble layman’s 70mm Orion refractor instead. I will offer it to you since it was my firstfruit telescope. 🙂 And I did say refractor on the 8″, it’s actually a reflector. A refractor would have probably run in the tens of thousands of dollars… Yikes. We need to get on the Save Our Skies bandwagon one of these days, but I’m afraid it’s probably too late for this generation. 😦 “What’s the Little Dipper, Daddy?”

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