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Exploding Comet Captured By Westmont Telescope

Westmont’s Keck Telescope has captured a rare celestial phenomenon: an exploding comet.


Westmont’s Keck Telescope has captured a rare celestial phenomenon: an exploding comet.

Comet 17P/Holmes in the constellation Perseus caught astronomers off guard when it suddenly brightened on Oct. 24.

“The comet was discovered by a British astronomer in the 19th century,” said Michael Sommermann, Westmont professor of physics, in a statement. “Until several weeks ago it was nothing but an extremely faint object. Then, unexpectedly, its brightness increased about 1 million-fold.”


Sommermann said the comet is now larger than any object in the solar system aside from the sun, and is easily visible to the naked eye.

Possible explanations for the explosion include a meteoroid hit, the rupture of a gas-filled cavity and the partial breakup of the comet’s nucleus, experts say.

Scientists aren’t sure how long the comet’s show will last but estimate it could be weeks if not months. The comet should be in full view at the next public viewing at Westmont’s Carroll Observatory on Friday, Nov. 16.

The Keck Telescope, a 24-inch F/8 Cassegrain reflecting instrument with Ritchey-Chretien optics, is one of the most powerful on California’s Central Coast. The images were captured with a CCD camera from Santa Barbara Instrument Group.

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