SCIENCE: Comet PanSTARRS now visible in the Northern Hemisphere, ISON, & maybe Mars in 2014
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Thread: Comet PanSTARRS now visible in the Northern Hemisphere, ISON, & maybe Mars in 2014

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    Default Comet PanSTARRS now visible in the Northern Hemisphere, ISON, & maybe Mars in 2014

    Quote Originally Posted by
    The first of two bright comets predicted for 2013 will soon be appearing in the evening sky for observers in the Northern Hemisphere. The comet — while not as bright as first predicted — will still be more brilliant than any comet seen in recent years, so here are some tips to spot the celestial wanderer.

    The Comet Pan-STARRS, known officially as C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) will be readily visible with the unaided eye, though binoculars will be a help for spotting it against the twilight sky. Weather permitting, the comet could be as bright as a first-magnitude star on the brightness scale of night sky objects (the lower the number, the brighter the object).

    After months appearing in the Southern Hemisphere night sky, Comet Pan-STARRS will make its first appearance in the Northern Hemisphere sky on Thursday (March 7).

    Comet Pan-STARRS will be at its brightest on Sunday (March 10) when it makes its closest approach to the sun. At that time the comet will be about 28 million miles (45 million km) from the sun — a bit closer to the star than Mercury, which will be about 37 million miles (60 million km) from the sun. [Comet Pan-STARRS in Night Sky Explained (Infographic)]

    The comet will still be low in the western sky on Sunday, and may be lost in the sun's glare. It will fade in brightness over the next few days, but at the same time will be higher in the sky at sunset. will provide up-to-date information on sighting opportunities for the comet.

    Two comet-watching dates to prepare for now will be next Tuesday and Wednesday (March 12 and 13). On those evenings, the thin crescent moon will be close to the comet in the sky.

    Depending on the size and direction of the comet's tail, the moon may actually be silhouetted against the tail on March 13.
    Now that PanSTARRS is (finally!) visible to everyone NOT living in Australia, South America or Africa, I can get in some practice comet-watching before the big show around thanksgiving when ISON arrives, which may get bright enough to be seen in the daytime without a telescope!

    Here's a few charts to help anyone who wants to spot Comet PanSTARRS:

    (These charts are predictive; comets paths are pretty erratic, so they're only meant as a guide.)
    Ideal viewing conditions involve a flat, low, western horizon, right after sunset. Forests, mountains and the like will obstruct your view, as PanSTARRS won't ever get more than 20-odd degrees above the horizon (about a hand's-width if you were to line it up), and light pollution (yes, that's a real thing) is also an issue; Appearing in the twilit sky will make it tricky enough to spot, so adding city lights and whatnot will make it even harder. (Also, if you're unlucky like me, you may be on a coast that's infamous for fog appearing right as sunset...)

    To top off the comet news: next year, comet Sliding Spring will pass INCREDIBLY close to Mars, and may just smack into it in mid-October. The odds are against this happening, but still... yikes.

    In short, it's a really great time to own a telescope. Or be a firebender. Happy comet hunting!
    Last edited by Stratago; 7th March 2013 at 06:44 PM.

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