Westmont astronomers reported today that the campus’s Keck Telescope has captured images of a “rare celestial surprise” – the sudden brightening of Comet 17P/Holmes, near the constellation Perseus on the northeastern sky. In a statement from Westmont, physics professor Michael Sommermann noted that the comet had previously been faint but had only recently become roughly one million times brighter. “When looking at the comet’s coma, it’s larger now than any object in our solar system aside from the sun and easily visible to the naked eye,” Sommermann said in a written statement. Although scientists have not determined why the comet became brighter, educated guesses include the comet being struck by a meteor, a gas-filled cavity having ruptured, and the disintegration of the comet’s core.
Residents interested in seeing this celestial marvel can do so at the next public viewing on Friday, Nov. 16, at Westmont’s Carroll Observatory. Members of the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit meet there every third Friday.