Unusual Comet Visible In The Night Sky

(National Weather Service) A comet, known specifically as Comet 17P/Holmes, has unexpectedly brightened to naked eye visibility during the last few days, and presently can be seen in the night sky. For some reason currently unknown to astronomers, this normally dim comet brightened about a million-fold from 17th to about 2.5th magnitude in a matter of hours. The comet is now visible to the naked eye--even from light polluted cities--high in the northern sky after sunset, near the constellation Perseus. Go here to access a finder chart:

http://www.spaceweather.com/images2007/24oct07/skymap_north_holmes.gif

The comet does not look like a normal comet, but more like a fuzzy star. No tail has been clearly discerned but maybe as the days go by it might develop one. How long will this comet remain at naked eye visibility? No one really knows. Comets are quite unpredictable and can brighten and dim unexpectedly. Why has Comet 17P/Holmes brightened so dramatically? Perhaps it has broken up and allowed for more of the trapped ices to be exposed to sunlight, thus allowing them to vaporize and create a larger and more reflective comet head.


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