A first (belated) view of Comet 17P/Holmes

Everyone’s been buzzing around extolling the virtues of the latest apparition of Comet Holmes, a short period comet which normally shows up every 6 years and a fraction but which ordinarily is pretty dim. As a short period comet it has run around the sun frequently enough that most of the volatiles seem to have burned off, and it is a relatively difficult object on a regular pass – but not this time! For a currently unknown reason it flared up about a week ago, brightening somewhere between 500,000 and a million times brighter than it was before the outburst. No-one knows how long this flare up will last, but it’s a pretty exciting event in the life of this comet.

I’ve been ill for a while and confined to the house, but the last of the bandages came off today, and I will be returning to work tomorrow. I suppose I should still take it easy, but I slipped out a few minutes ago to get my first glimpse of 17P/Holmes in the moonlit night. It was easily visible as an extra star forming a roughly equilateral triangle with Delta Persei and Mirfak, slightly brighter than Delta Persei, and a neat fuzzy ball in my (mediocre) 7×50 binocs. Yay!

I caught a 6-second tripod-mounted image through my 17-85 lens at 85 mm f/8 and ISO 1600. This is a crop at 50% of full size, showing the Comet, Mirfak, and Delta Persei as well as a few background stars:

Comet Holmes

Image processing in photoshop – curves, to enhance the dimmer parts of the image; smart sharpen to reduce the motion blur due to the tripod mount; Noise Ninja to reduce the noise due to the high ISO capture.