Physics Photo of the Week

November 1, 2007

The Great Pumpkin - Comet Holmes
The week before Halloween, 2007, a little-known comet suddenly became a million times brighter.  For some unknown reason, the comet must have "exploded" and released great quantities of gas and dust to become highly visible.  The comet viewed from Earth resembles a great greenish pumpkin-shaped blob.  Apparently any tail is pointing away from Earth due to the solar pressure.

This telescopic photo was taken with the assistance of First Year Seminar students Jenna Blakley and Jake Lyerly on October 29.  The color image was obtained by photographing through three filters: red, green, and blue, then the images were combined to display the respective images in color.  There are not many stars visible due to the overwhelming brightness of the comet. 

You can view this comet
easily with the naked eye.  Currently after 10:00 pm high in the eastern sky the constellation Perseus can be seen as a triangle below the familiar "W" shaped Cassiopaeia and the Pleiades cluster.  The comet looks like a star below the brightest star in Perseus.  Binoculars reveals the fuzzy appearance of the comet.

It is expected that the comet will remain relatively bright for several weeks.  The dust has no place to go except to dissipate into the vacuum of outer space.  According to Astronomy Picture of the Day for Oct. 29 the comet is currently receding from the Sun and lies about as far away as Jupiter.  Because of the suddenness of the eruption of the vast quantities of dust and gas, it is expected that this ball will continue to grow larger (perhaps fainter) in the coming weeks.  We'll post new photos periodically at another web site for the results of student astronomical photographs.

This week's Physics Photo of the Week is published a day earlier for two reasons: Halloween celebration and the fact that I am out of town on Friday.

Physics Photo of the Week is published weekly during the academic year on Fridays by the Warren Wilson College Physics Department.  These photos feature an interesting phenomena in the world around us.  Students, faculty, and others are invited to submit digital (or film) photographs for publication and explanation.  Atmospheric phenomena are especially welcome.  Please send any photos to

Click here to see the Physics Photo of the Week Archive.

Observers are invited to submit digital photos to: