serendipitous reflections

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Giant exploding comet

OK, you know Jeni married a big nerd, and sometimes I just can't help myself, but I got an email update from Space Weather about a giant comet that is larger than the sun (although light in mass so it's size will not affect gravitational pull or planet paths or anything catastrophic) but you should be able to see it in the sky, assuming you know where Mirfak, the brightest star in Perseus in on Nov 19, which I don't, but still think it will be cool to stare into the night sky and look for something really big and bright that we may never see like this again.

The email: GIANT COMET: University of Hawaii astronomers have measured the diameter of Comet 17P/Holmes: 1.4 million kilometers. This makes the exploding comet bigger than the sun and now the largest object in the solar system. Not surprisingly, the comet is visible to the naked eye; with only a backyard telescope you can watch its gigantic debris cloud expand from night to night. Nov. 19th is an especially good night to look: Comet Holmes will glide by Mirfak, the brightest star in the constellation Perseus, and appear to swallow it. Visit http://spaceweather.com for a sky map and images.

(Note: The sun remains by far the most massive object in the solar system. Comet 17P/Holmes' diaphanous atmosphere of dust and gas, which is what the astronomers measured, contains less mass than a typical asteroid. In spite of its great size, Comet Holmes is a lightweight that won't be deflecting the orbits of planets or causing any other such catastrophes.)

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