Exploding Comet?
Thursday, November 15th, 2007

By Charles PoplingerComet Holmes 17P, photo by Bob McDuell

This photo by photographer Bob McDuell shows the 17P Holmes Comet’s halo and its outer aurora.

Ancient Greeks thought the heavens were perfect and the earth imperfect, therefore any unusual object in the skies such as a comet was a bad omen because it was closer to the earth than the stars. Astronomers diligently searched the heavens for comets, logged their appearance and made their presence known to the rulers who based important decisions on them. One of these astronomers was Edwin Holmes who discovered the comet 17P Holmes which is named after him. He spied the comet on November 6, 1892. The comet orbits around Jupiter and the Sun and during the 1892 orbit, the comet seemed to explode, just as it’s doing today. The comet really isn’t exploding. As it nears the sun, its interior is heating. The heat is causing volcanoes at its surface which are expelling gas into space around it so it looks huge.

Saturday, November 17, 6:30 pm at the Ford House in Mendocino, interested star-gazers might be able view comet 17P Holmes through the new telescopes donated by Out of this World to Mendocino Area Parks Association (MAPA). Although the potential for viewing the comet looks promising for the 17th, comets can fizzle or brighten without warning. Weather permitting, other astronomical viewings will be the Andromeda Galaxy, the Pleiades, moon, star clusters, nebulae, Uranus and Neptune and more.

Meet behind the Ford House museum at 6:30 p.m., 735 Main Street, Mendocino. Telescopes will be provided, but bring your own flashlights and volunteers will cover them with red cellophane. Be sure to dress warmly. In case of rain or fog, the backup plan is an indoor program: The Sun, Our Star, given by Charles Poplinger. Sponsored By: Ford House Museum/Visitor Center; Out of This World in Mendocino; Mendocino Area Parks Association (MAPA); and California State Parks. For more information: Ford House, 707-937-5397; Out of this World, 707-937-3335.

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