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Comet Holmes Bigger Than The Sun

By: SpaceWeather.com
Published: Nov 15, 2007 at 07:48
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"Formerly, the sun was the largest object in the Solar System," says University of Hawaii astronomer David Jewett. "Now, Comet 17P/Holmes holds that distinction." On Nov. 9th, a team of Hawaii astronomers led by Rachel Stevenson measured the diameter of the comet's expanding debris cloud: 1.4 million kilometers, slightly larger than the sun itself.

Image of comet Holmes from the 3.6-meter Canada-France-Hawaii telescope on Mauna Kea showing the 1.4 million km diameter coma. The white ''star'' near the center of the coma is in fact the dust-shrouded nucleus. (Right) the Sun and planet Saturn shown at the same scale for comparison. (Sun and Saturn images courtesy of NASA's SOHO and Voyager projects).

This composite image prepared by Jewett shows a Nov. 9th photo of the comet beside the sun and Saturn for scale. To photograph the comet, Stevenson et al used the 3.6 meter Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope atop Mauna Kea, "one of the few professional instruments still capable of capturing the whole comet in one image," notes Jewett.

Comet Holmes exploded on Oct. 23th and it has been expanding ever since. How big will it get? See for yourself. The comet is visible to the naked eye as a fuzzball in the constellation Perseus. With only a backyard telescope you can see the comet's debris cloud in crisp detail and watch it expand from night to night. Nov. 19th is a good night to look: The comet will glide by the star Mirfak (alpha Persei) and appear to swallow it--a sight not to be missed: sky map, ephemeris.


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