It’s very rare to get to see a comet which is so bright that you can easily see it from the middle of a housing estate through light haze with a near full Moon with just your eyes. No telescope, no binoculars, nothing! But that’s what I’ve just done. The Periodic comet 17/P Holmes has just surprised the heck out of Astronomers by brighting from Magnitude 17 (you need a professional grade telescope to see things that faint) to Magnitude 3 (easily visible with the naked eye) literally over-night. Obviously something very spectacular just happened on the comet.
Thanks to an email with coordinates form Terry Mosley I knew Holmes could be found near delta Persei at around midnight. When I got outside conditions were very poor and not helped by the street lights all around me. As I mentioned there was a near full Moon high to the south and a think layer of haze across the whole sky being lit up by the Moon. Needless to say my expectations weren’t high. However, Holmes was so bright that it distorted the shape of Perseus to the extent that I had trouble finding the constellation! My brain just kept saying “no, that’s not Perseus, Perseus doesn’t have that nice little triangle of stars in it”. You guessed it, one of those three stars was not a star at all but the comet. To me Holmes looked to be about the same brightness as Delta Persei so that would put it at around the Magnitude 3. I’ve never seen a comet like this before. It looks just like a star, even in binoculars. No Coma, no tail, nothing, just a point of light. For all the world it looks like an extra star has appeared out of nowhere in Perseus. I’ve attached a scan of my record of the observation below.
If you’re interested in observing the comet yourself the guys in Astronomy Ireland have been kind enough to put a finder chart up on their website. You can find it here: www.astronomy.ie/holmes2.gif