New Comet On Its Way

A new comet called PanSTARRS is the one to watch out for this month. Viewers in the southern hemisphere have already been enjoying the splendid space traveler, but it will start to become visible in the northern hemisphere on Thursday. Space Weather said that, on March 10, PanSTARRS will actually make its closest approach to the sun.

Comets could be understood as large space snowballs that travel in very elliptical orbits. When they get closer to the sun, they start to melt, which creates the long streamer-like tails that we earthlings associate with them. While the tail may be at its longest on March 10, Space Weather said that it may actually be a little too close to the sun on that date because solar glare may interfere with good photography or good viewing.

Deborah Byrd from EarthSky said that the comet actually came closest to the earth yesterday as it headed toward the sun. In her complete viewing guide, she breaks down which nights should provide the best viewing opportunities, provided the weather down here on the ground cooperates.

According to Byrd, starting Thursday, North Americans can see the new comet just above the horizon after sunset if they have clear views in that direction. However, you may have much better views as the comet starts its reverse voyage back into space. March 12, 13, and 14 are recommended dates for photo opportunities because they may allow you to capture the crescent moon in the same photo as the comet.

If you are not familiar with finding objects in the night sky, those dates will also be good ones because you can look first for the crescent moon and then search around it for comet PanSTARRS. However, if the weather doesn’t cooperate, don’t give up since it may be visible into the month of April.

As James Johnson reported earlier, an even more spectacular comet is coming in November. That comet could actually be brighter than the earth’s moon.

Bob King at Universe Today said that 2013 could the best year ever for observing comets, especially for amateurs. A third comet could also be visible soon, although it’s unlikely to be as spectacular as the other two.

Amateur photographs of comet PanSTARRS are already starting to pour in from the southern hemisphere. For example, Terry Lovejoy of Australia posted this fine example to EarthSky.

comet panstarrs amateur photo

Will you try to photograph the new comet, or will you be happy just to view comet PanSTARRS?