Skimming the Horizon @Comet Pan-STARRS
The inquisitiveness behind figuring out celestial apparitions was one of the reasons why planetary laws and orbital mechanics exist today. Now that these apparitions have become predictable, comet sightings have gathered a cult following of sorts with astronomers, both amateur and pro, and astro enthusiasts flocking in huge numbers to witness such events.
2013 is being called as the Year of Comets. Two rare appearances in an year is special and when these are expected to be visible just with the naked eye, the event becomes even more significant. Discovered back in June 2011, from the Hawaii-based Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (PANSTARRS) observatory, comet 2011 L4 or simply PANSTARRS, popularly named after its founding observatory. The comet reached its closest approach distance to the sun on March 10 and will be brightest on March 12 and 13, visible over the Western horizon just after twilight.
So, get out there just before sunset and watch this “celestial Tom & Jerry” scene unfold over the western horizon, hoping that Tom has a really bright tail 😉 Happy comet sighting!
Figure: Graphic showing expected position of Comet PANSTARRS in March (ImageCredits: NASA/JPL)