What Do You Call A Comet With No Tail?

Comet 17P/Holmes is now visible to the naked eye, and an even more striking sight if you use binoculars or a telescope.


Nobody is sure why, probably trapped gas*, but this particular cosmic iceball flared to become a million times brighter in just 2 days.

Everyone associates comets with a long curved tail, but this one doesn't have one. Still, it's easy to spot from even a city location and distinctly un-starlike. Even low-power binoculars reveal a ghostly smudge surrounding a bright center.

In early May the comet reached its closest point to the Sun in its 6.88-year orbit, and that was when it should have been most visible as the Sun cooked off trapped gases and melted ice. But nothing happened. But then, as the comet moved further away from the Sun, it amazed everyone when it suddenly brightened.

Put a kettle on the stove and it doesn't boil. Take off and suddenly it does. Weird.

Thanks to our orbit on the inside track, today (November 5th), we've caught up to it some, and we'll be as close as we're going to get to it as the comet heads back out to the outer reaches of the solar system.

To see it, look northeast about 30° above the horizon (unless you're in Alaska) at 9 P.M. It should appear about twice as high as the bright star Capella. It will climb almost directly overhead between 2 and 3 A.M. Best of all, the waning crescent Moon remains out of sight for the next week or so until after 1 A.M.


*What's the difference between a tavern and an elephant passing wind? One's a bar room, the other is a BAROOM! Auntie Marion's favorite joke. Her second favorite (she had a thing about elephants) was about a guy waving a rag over his head. Fellow says, "Golly, why are you doing that?" Guy says, "Keep elephants away." Fellow says, "But there aren't any elephants around here." Guys says, "Works good don't it!"

So what do you call a comet with not tail? Spot.

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