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Comet PANSTARRS by Terry Lovejoy in Australia
Just be forewarned. Skyandtelescope.com is calling the comet a speck, not a spectacle.
Remember, the comet is low in the west immediately after sunset – not prominent in the midst of evening twilight – but there if your sky is clear to the horizon and unobstructed by trees or tall buildings. Some have said they could see PANSTARRS with the unaided eye, but you will likely need binoculars to pick it out in the twilight glare. On March 14, the comet will be located between the waxing crescent moon in the western twilight sky and the sunset point. The moon points downward toward the sunset point. The comet is much closer to the horizon than the moon on March 14. Scan with binoculars near the horizon and watch for the comet’s fan-shaped comet tail.
Look below for a Comet PANSTARRS viewing guide.
Our favorite pics of the comet, so far, here.
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Comet PANSTARRS in early March 2013
Starting about March 7, 2013. PANSTARRS will appear above the western horizon after sunset for viewers at U.S. latitudes. To see it, you will need an unobstructed, cloudless view of the west after sunset. It is best to pick a dark spot, away from streetlights. Look in the sunset direction, as soon as the sky darkens. The comet will be just above the horizon. In Los Angeles (34° N) last night (March 6), observers at Griffith Observatory announced they would try to spot the comet. For that latitude, the comet was only 3° above the horizon 20 minutes after sunset. It would have been a very tough observation! I didn’t hear that they spotted it, but, remember, the comet will get easier to see each day from latitudes like those in the U.S.
March 10. This is a good time to look for Comet PANSTARRS from U.S. latitudes. The comet should be visible, and it’ll be at its brightest. Why? The comet passes closest to the sun – as close as our sun’s innermost planet, Mercury, about 28 million miles (45 million kilometers) away – on March 10. Comets are typically brightest and most active around the time they are closest to the sun when solar heating vaporizes ice and dust from the comet’s outer crust. Expect the comet to brighten quickly around this time. Look for it low in the west after sunset. Bring binoculars to help you spot it in the twilight sky.
Around March 12 and 13. Moonlight might interfere a bit with the darkness of the night sky, but there should be some wonderful photo opportunities as the young moon returns to the same part of the sky as the comet.
Comet PANSTARRS from mid- to late March 2013
Comet PANSTARRS in April 2013
The Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii discovered this comet in June 2011. Since comets carry the names of their discoverers, it has been designated C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS). Only the largest telescopes on Earth could glimpse Comet PANSTARRS when it was first discovered, but amateurs telescopes began to pick it up by May 2012. By October 2012, its surrounding coma was seen to be large and fine at an estimated 75,000 miles (120,000 kilometers) wide.
By the way, Comet PANSTARRS is considered a non-periodic comet. It probably took millions of years to come from the great Oort comet cloud surrounding our solar system. Once it rounds the sun, experts say, its orbit will shorten to only 110,000 years. It is, for sure, a once-in-a-lifetime comet.
Bottom line: It’s time to start watching for Comet PANSTARRS, one of
two comets to get excited about in 2013. Comet PANSTARRS will be
brightest and visible to Northern Hemisphere observers around March 10,
2013. Comet PANSTARRS viewing guide in this post. The other is Comet
ISON, which might become a daylight comet in late 2013.
Big sun-diving Comet ISON might be spectacular in late 2013