Comet C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS is getting its second wind. Although slowly brightening all all along, a recent surge pushed it past the naked eye limit this week. The comet now shines around magnitude 4.5. If you live in the southern hemisphere, it’s visible near the horizon during both morning and evening twilight. If Panstarrs continues brightening at its current rate, it might defy more skeptical estimates and reach 1st or 2nd magnitude at dusk in a couple of weeks or a little brighter than the Big Dipper stars. That’s when sky watchers in the northern hemisphere will first see it.
Rob Kaufman of Bright, Victoria, Australia calls it a “stunning sight visually and northern observers have a great treat in store for them.” He was using a very modest, small aperture telescope to make his observations. Large binoculars shows a wide, V-shaped dust tail and a skinny, fainter gas tail. The two photos taken with common telephoto lenses really give a feel for how the comet appears in ordinary binoculars right now.
I’m usually a skeptic when it comes to comet brightness predictions because I see so many exaggerated claims on the Web. But I might just be won over to the “bright side” on this one.