Spotting Comet Pan-STARRS

Sungrazing comet Pan-STARRS made its closest approach to the sun yesterday and should now be visible in the western sky just after sunset. You should be able to spot the comet along with its tails using a pair of binoculars and it may even be visible to the naked eye! It is important to try to catch the comet at the right time, if you try too early the sky will still be too bright and if you look too far after sunset it will be very close to the horizon. The best time to look over the next few days should be at around 6.45pm. Be sure to make sure that the Sun has fully set so that you don’t risk damaging your eyes.

The graphic below shows were to spot the comet over the coming days and also shows the position of the crescent Moon which you can use to guide you.

View to the west at approximately 6.45pm

View to the west at approximately 6.45pm

The comet comes from an area called the Oort cloud in the outer reaches of the Solar System. It may not return to the inner Solar System for another 100,000 years so this is our only chance to spot it! The comet was discovered in June 2011 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) in Hawaii.

Although the comet has already made its closest approach it is thought that it will be best placed for viewing in the coming days when it is a little further away from the Sun. By the end of the month the comet will have faded so much that it will no longer be visible even with binoculars.

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About mpole2011

An astronomical observatory at The Long Eaton School, scheduled to open in early 2012
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2 Responses to Spotting Comet Pan-STARRS

  1. Michelle Brighouse says:

    Hi Hayley, Could you let me know whether family astronomy night is still on Wednesday 27th March please. Cheers, from Michelle.

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