No matter how many images you see of the surfaces of planetoids and planets, the brilliant illumination dust clouds and galaxies, nothing brings space home quite like seeing it with your own two eyes in real-time. That’s what makes the arrival of two comets in the year 2013 especially exciting for all of those who love space porn like I know we here at DFE do.
Comet PANSTARRS has been visible in the Southern Hemisphere for while, but starting Friday night, the comet makes its Northern debut.. for those with the right conditions to see it.
Here in Rochester, conditions look to be strictly catch-as-catch-can, with all the major networks in town and The Weather Channel predicting breaks in the clouds by the afternoon. But you’ll need to be out-of-town – probably out of the ‘burbs, too – with a decent set of binoculars to really appreciate this relatively dim comet. According to @NASA JPL:
By March 8, comet PANSTARRS may be viewable for those with a totally unobstructed view of the western horizon for about 15 minutes after twilight. On March 10, it will make its closest approach to the sun about 28 million miles (45 million kilometers) away. As it continues its nightly trek across the sky, the comet may get lost in the sun’s glare but should return and be visible to the naked eye by March 12. As time marches on in the month of March, the comet will begin to fade away slowly, becoming difficult to view (even with binoculars or small telescopes) by month’s end. The comet will appear as a bright point of light with its diffuse tail pointing nearly straight up from the horizon like an exclamation point.
The key as always with spotting a comet is to get out somewhere flat with as little artificial light as possible. This time of year, if you can find someone with a farm whose willing to let you and your weird friends hang out in the middle of a field, that would be just about perfect. If you do, this blog would greatly appreciate any photos you can snap of the event! By all means, please contact us and share your photos!