HUT Observatory

Bright Comet PanSTARRS Coming in March

imagesStarting about March 8, 2013, Comet PanSTARRS will appear low in the western sky in evening twilight.  As comets go, any that are bright enough to be seen by eye alone are considered bright.  Comet PANSTARRS, named after the scientific collaboration that discovered it in June, 2011, should be visible from dark sites such as we enjoy here in the Colorado Rockies.  The comet will surely be a relatively bright target for celestial photography.  Already, astronomers in the Southern Hemisphere are recording impressive images of the comet’s tail, as shown at the left.  The object is moving through space to pass closest to the Sun on March 10, and as it does this, it will become more favorably placed in our evening sky.  Each night after its initial appearance, it will be higher and to the right.  This well-illustrated article from Sky & Telescope magazine will be helpful to find the comet in March:

The crescent Moon will appear near the comet on March 12.  Increasing light from the Moon will limit the view as days pass.  Especially with binoculars, Comet PanSTARRS will be an interesting object and almost certainly bright enough to show at least a trace of tail to anyone able to find it.  It is possible that the object will appear strikingly bright, but the behavior of comets is notoriously hard to predict, and, unfortunately, this object hasn’t been increasing in brightness quite as fast as early indications suggested.

We are still on track, however, for what is likely to be an extraordinary comet at the end of 2013, Comet ISON, which will be closest to the Sun and brightest on November 28.  This object will be widely reported in all media as it brightens.  Almost certainly, everyone will see it.

In the meantime, it’s amazing to discover how many small comets are in the sky at any one time.  The following website gives weekly updates and recent images of comets that are bright enough to be photographed from facilities like HUT Observatory.