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Exploding comet — or coming right at us?

Comet 17P/Holmes has increased in brightness by a factor of about a million over the last three days (no, that’s not an exaggeration).  The comet, which was discovered in 1892, suddenly and without explanation has jumped from about Magnitude 17 to 2.2.

Holmes orbits the Sun every 6.88 years.  Besides the mystifying increase in its luminosity, the comet is strange because it doesn’t display the tail associated with most other comets.

What does that mean?  Comet Holmes could be exploding, or maybe we’re seeing it head-on — which means it’s coming right at us and we’d better duck.

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