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Monday, November 19, 2007

Astronomy: Comet in Context

Click image for wide-angle view.

Last night, November 17–18 2007, provided the first clear-sky opportunity to observe Comet 17P/Holmes in almost two weeks. Remarkably, because the tail of the comet is seen end-on, little has changed. Given that this was the first time in the fifteen years I've lived here that I had clear skies for the Leonid meteor shower, I thought this would be a great opportunity both to photographically record the visual appearance of this most unusual comet and, perhaps, catch one or more Leonids in a long-exposure frame. While I saw four Leonids during the photographic session, I didn't manage to image any of them, so the comet will have to do. But what an apparition it is! The sky was less than perfectly transparent—the Moon had set, and yet the Milky Way was not as in-your-face obvious as it is here when the temperature drops to −10° C or below and atmospheric moisture goes “clunk” on the ground.

But it'll do…click on the image above for the full image which shows the comet in a field which spans the Pleiades to Cassiopeia and can be used a finder chart for spotting the comet in your own skies. This isn't quite the visual appearance (at least in our milky skies)—the time exposure has popped out the comet more prominently than the unaided eye perceives it, but the slightest sweep past it with binoculars will have you saying “Wow!”

Posted at November 19, 2007 01:13