28 October 2007: Comet 17P/Holmes
Comet 17P/Holmes underwent a huge burst of brightness a few days, leading to much chatter on various astronomy boards, websites, and other internet groups. Unfortunately constant cloud cover over central Indiana prevented me from observing this event until tonight, which was finally clear.
Around 8:20 I looked up the position of the comet on the internet, and then I set up my 10 in. Dob. on my driveway and used a planisphere to get my bearings. A sweep of the region around Perseus with a pair of 10 × 50 binoculars revealed the comet as a distinct fuzzy blob—similar to, but much brighter than nebula. Now that I had its location, I could see its position by naked eye; it looked like a new magnitude 3-ish member of the Perseus constellation.
I spent some time fiddling with the alignment of finder ‘scope on the Dob, and after a few minutes I was able to get the comet into view. It looked spectacular. The coma appeared to have a central area that was brighter, with a more diffuse area surrounding. In the central coma there appeared to be two star-like objects; whether these were an indication of a split nucleus, or else if one or both of those were background stars I couldn’t tell (and there appears to be some discussion on the internet about this issue as well).
I called the rest of the family out to take look; they all seemed to enjoy the view, but the cool temperatures soon sent them back inside. I also invited a couple of the neighbors to look as well.
After some time I swung the scope over to M31 for a comparison (I just star-hopped my way to it, rather than turn on the computerized finder the scope has). In comparison to comet Holmes, M31 looked pale and anemic (as it usually does under these poor, light-polluted skies). Around 9:30 or so the moon began to clear the clutter at the horizon, so I took one final look at the moon before putting the scope to bed.