Comet 'just burst' from invisibility to naked-eye visibility in late October

November 7, 2007

DEARBORN / Nov. 7, 2007---Comet Holmes, which in the past few days has emerged from invisibility to naked-eye visibility, will be monitored by astronomers and guests at the University of Michigan Dearborn observatory in the early evening hours on Saturday, Nov. 10, and Tuesday, Nov. 13, weather-permitting.  To find out whether the observing session will be held, viewers can call 734-748-3028 after 5 p.m. on the day of each event for a recorded message

“Comet Holmes just burst on the astronomical scene,” according to Donald Bord, professor of physics and astronomy at UM-Dearborn.

The public is welcome to attend the observation sessions at UM-Dearborn. Viewing will begin around 8 p.m. and continue until around 10 p.m. The observatory is located on the top floor of the campus’s Science Learning and Research Center.

Comet Holmes has been known since 1892, and makes return visits to the inner part of the solar system every 6.88 years. In the sky, the comet is located in the constellation of Perseus, near the bright star Mirfak, well above the horizon for viewers facing the northeast in our region.

“On Oct. 24, Comet Holmes puffed out a large cloud of gas and dust and brightened dramatically going from well below naked-eye visibility to a point rivaling that of the brightest stars in the sky,” according to Bord. “Initially, the object looked ‘star-like’ to the unaided eye and even in telescopes with small apertures, but within days, it began to take on a more extended, fuzzy, ‘comet-like’ appearance.”

Because Comet Holmes is nearly opposite the Sun in the sky and because comet dust tails always point away from the Sun, Earth-bound observers are looking generally along a direction parallel to that of the comet’s tail, Bord said.

“Consequently, the apparition presented by Comet Holmes does not precisely match the one we commonly attach to these objects,” he said. “Instead, Comet Holmes reveals only a largely spherical, diffuse halo of yellowish light attributable to reflected sunlight from the expanding cloud of dust particles released by the comet head.”

It is expected that Comet Holmes will remain visible to the naked eye for the next couple of weeks before fading from sight.

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CONTACT: Terry Gallagher
PHONE: 313-593-5518
The Office of University Relations
Room 1040, Administration Building
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