For a little while there, Comet 17P/Holmes was the largest object in the Solar System, flaring up by a factor of over a million. Its cloud of gas and dust expanded outward to cover a diameter of 1.4 million km (870,000 miles) – bigger than the Sun. Well, the party’s over. Comet Holmes is fading away again. But will it follow history and flare up again?
This image of Comet Holmes was captured by the MMT observatory on November 4th, 2007 using an instrument called “Megacam”. This is one of the largest CCD cameras on Earth, putting 36 9-megapixel CCD chips together to form a single array with 300 megapixels.
The camera captured images of the comet with three separate exposures in three colours to produce this full colour image.
If you want to see Holmes before it fades into obscurity again, you’re going to need binoculars. Although it’s still a 3rd magnitude object, and should be visible with the unaided eye, it’s so large in the sky that it’s actually quite faint now.
Astronomers are hoping that it’ll repeat history. During its last outburst back in 1892, the comet underwent a second bright flareup five months after the first one. So, if history is any judge, we might just see the comet brighten again, and we’ll all get another chance to see it before it’s gone for good.
Original Source: CfA News Release