In Science and Space: Debris from the most spectacular cometary explosion of all time is visible from Earth this month, and astronomers are hoping observations can shed light on the puzzling event that lit up the sky in 2007.
Debris from the 2007 explosion, which then created a coma wider than the sun, still orbits the central solar system, periodically crossing Earth’s path. This month, amateur telescopes can see it, and a team of Finnish scientists are encouraging skywatchers to look for it, as what they see could help explain what’s so special. about 17P/Holmes. Amateur astronomers say the best time to observe Comet 17P/Holmes is after August 22 to avoid interference by the bright moon.
When faint comet 17P/Holmes erupted with the brightest comet explosion ever observed in October 2007, astronomers watched in awe. This is not the first time the disappointing 3.4-kilometer wide comet has done so. In fact, the ice ball was only discovered thanks to a similar explosion in 1892.
Markku Nissinen, a Finnish amateur astronomer who observed the 2007 explosion and studied the comet, told Space.com. “It’s a comet in the Jupiter family and there are hundreds of them but no one has done this yet. There must be something different about this one. ”
“[These outbursts] always occur when comets pass a short distance from the sun, so it seems to be related to heat,” Gritsevich said. “But the explosions don’t seem to be cyclical. They’re more random.”
Gritsevich hopes that observations of debris flows may begin to answer some of these questions. By measuring the brightness of the particles, their size and distribution, astronomers can gather information about their physical and chemical properties.