Comet Pan-STARRS

This could be a spectacular year for comets, ending with one that may be the brightest comet in many years appearing in the last 2-3 months of the year. 

There’s another potentially bright comet in March.  This is the comet Pan-STARRS.

The comet was discovered by the Pan-STARRS 1.8 m telescope in Hawaii.  The primary purpose of Pan-STARRS is to discover and monitor approaching comets and asteroids, some of which could present hazards to Earth.  It can also be used to discover other transient objects, such as exploding stars, variable stars, and earth satellites.

By the end of 2013, the Pan-STARRS system will be complete and consist of 4 telescopes, identical to the first one.  Each telescope has a digital camera with 1.4 BILLION pixels. 

While the Pan-STARRS telescope system is used to detect objects with orbits that could threaten Earth, this comet poses no danger to our planet.

The comet will pass closest to Earth on March 5th and will be about 100 million miles away.  The comet will then pass within 30 million miles of the Sun on March 10th.  Although the comet will go around the Sun, its orbit is such that it will not disappear from our vantage point on Earth.

Predictions of a comet’s brightness are quite variable, but this comet may be visible to the naked eye from early March to mid April.  It will appear low in the western sky just after sunset.  On March 12th, the comet will be just south of a very thin crescent moon. 

Western Slope Skies is produced by members of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society.