Tuesday, October 30, 2007

See Comet Holmes

The new member of the fall sky, Comet Holmes, appears as a slightly fuzzy star in Perseus. It is easily visible to the unaided eye and as a round yellowish fuzzball through binoculars. Have a look!

Such is our view from Earth...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Visitor from beyond Mars - Comet Holmes

Quite unexpectedly, an icy ball slowly falling towards the inner solar system brightened significantly last week. Comet Holmes is about 150 million miles away — beyond the orbit of Mars — and approaching.

Comet Holmes presents itself in the northeast soon after dark falls. Look for a fuzzy, moderately bright star about 1/2 way between the bright twinkling Capella (which is just above the horizon) and the familiar "w" of the constellation Cassiopeia. The "w" is high in the northeast, about 1/2 way between the horizon and directly overhead.

It is best to view the comet from a relatively dark area and before the moon rises. At 8 pm each night this week, the moon will not be above the horizon, so this is a good time to have a look.

Over the next few weeks the comet drifts past the Alpha Persei Association (a group of stars spread around Alpha Persei, the moderately bright star in the area). Even though, Holmes is visible to the unaided eye, use binoculars for a much better view, especially as it passes the glittering stars of the Association.

Such is our view from Earth...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Orionid Meteor Shower

Patient skywatchers on Sunday morning are in for a treat with the Orionid Meteor Shower. Around 5 a.m. the meteors appear to emanate from the constellation Orion which sits high in the south. Up to 25 sand grain sized pieces from the debris field from Comet Halley's tail may enter our planet's upper atmosphere every hour. The shock waves created as they collide with our upper atmosphere's rarefied gases cause their glowing streaks as they enter at nearly 40 miles per second.

Try not to observe before 2 a.m. because the bright gibbous moon hasn't set yet. Its light washes out the sky, blocking the fainter meteor streaks.

Dress warmly!

Such is our view from Earth...

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Morning Sky Viewing

During the next two weeks, look in the east about 6 - 6:30 a.m. Brilliant Venus and bright Saturn slowly change positions with one another. The pair appear closest on October 14.

In the reality of our solar system, Venus is swinging away from the sun before it begins to move behind it. It, therefore, slowly increases its distance from the sun, moving slight higher in the morning sky before dawn. Saturn rises earlier each night as the Earth catches up to it in our respective planetary orbits. By the time January arrives, Saturn rises in the early evening for our closest approach in February.

Such is our view from Earth...