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November 8, 2007

A Festival of Lights, In Space and On Earth

Comet Holmes.jpgLiving in New York, sometimes you forget to look up and enjoy the night sky—but if ever there was a time to do so, it's now. Dedicated skywatchers should know by now about Comet Holmes (at right), which just a few weeks ago erupted, becoming nearly a million times brighter practically overnight. Before Oct. 23, the comet was visible only through a telescope, but a sudden and rapid emission of dust particles made the comet visible to the naked eye by the following day. From the Associated Press:

The comet is exploding and its coma, a cloud of gas and dust illuminated by the sun, has grown to be bigger than the planet Jupiter. The comet lacks the tail usually associated with such celestial bodies but can be seen in the northern sky, in the constellation Perseus, as a fuzzy spot of light about as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper.

This isn't the first time Holmes has undergone a sudden and dramatic change; here's a clip from The Baltimore Sun, Feb. 9, 1893: Erratic Comet Holmes

Astronomers aren't certain how much longer the comet will be visible in its current, extra-bright form; it could be months or just a few more weeks, so outer space buffs should check out this once-in-a-lifetime event as soon as possible. Why not do it tonight? He didn't have anything to do with discovering comet Holmes, but it is, fittingly, Edmond Halley's birthday. You can find a simple guide to locating Comet Holmes at SkyandTelescope.com. And you can listen to today's brief comet-chat on Wake Up With Whoopi here:


Diwali handsIf you're looking for a more earth-bound celebration of lights, you're in luck this week: I was just reminded by Ajay, our excellent webmaster, that he will be celebrating Diwali (or Deepvali) this Friday. The festival, whose name comes from the Sanskrit dipavali ("row of lights") is one of the largest celebrations in Hinduism—a five-day festival which, at its most basic level, celebrates the victory of good over evil. Throughout the festival, celebrants set oil-filled lamps outside buildings and set them adrift on rivers; the main festival day, tomorrow, marks the Hindu new year, and is celebrated with gifts, fireworks, feasts... and even gambling, commemorating legendary games of dice said to have been played by Hindu gods.

And yes, like so many other holidays, Diwali has undergone some commercialization in recent years. Some trends cross all cultural boundaries.

Links:
See Comet Holmes Tonight! (SkyandTelescope.com)
Comet Holmes roundup on Google News
Hindu holiday of Diwali attracts attention of businesses (Houston Chronicle)
Diwali Specials (recipes from Saroj's Cookbook)

Photos:
Comet Holmes Grows a Tail (NASA Astronomy Photo of the Day; copyright Vicent Peris and José Luis Lamadrid (astrofoto.es)

Hands in Hands (Kunal Daswani)

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