New Photos Of Comet Panstarrs Plus Some Good News

Comet Panstarrs during evening twilight Feb. 17, 2013 from Australia. The comet is currently moving through the southern constellation of Grus the Crane and is not visible (yet) from the northern hemisphere. Details: 134mm telephoto. Credit: Rob Kaufman

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.

Another telephoto image of Comet Panstarrs taken 40 minutes before sunrise Feb. 17 from Down Under. Credit: Joseph Brimacombe

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.

Comet Panstarrs in a 16-inch telescope on Feb. 8, 2013. Notice the two tails – the broader one is composed of dust particles shed by the comet; the narrow one at top is gas fluorescing in UV light from the sun. Click for large version. Credit: John Drummond

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.

22 Responses

  1. Lynn

    Hi Bob
    As in UK time, what is low in the horizon, is that still Mercury or is it Mars as I looked back on Georgio’a photo, but what I’m looking at just now is much lower. Thanks:-)

    1. astrobob

      You’re probably seeing Mercury. Mars would almost certainly be too faint to see with the naked eye right now.

      1. Giorgio Rizzarelli

        Yes for sure you saw Mercury: as I explained in comments there (and also Bob in the blog), Mars needs binoculars at these times. If you saw Mercury lower, it was because it was setting. Congrats Lynn, Mercury is the most difficult naked-eye planet to see. One needs to know when and where to look.

      2. Philippe / Astronomy club of Saint-Louis (FR)

        I confirm, you saw Mercury. Mercury offers a good observation window until the end of the month, so take your chance to observe (and shoot) it.

        1. Giorgio Rizzarelli

          Lynn, you see it a bit lower than me also because of your UK latitude, but that’s a small effect. The main factors are the time when you watch it (because it is setting), and how much clean is the air.
          Just make sure you watch at West (the direction where Sun sets) starting around 45 minutes after sunset. The first object you see appearing at dusk is for sure Mercury. After it appears it slowly brigthens (because sky becomes darker) and at same time becomes lower, until it gets lost in the mist.

  2. Nice news !

    I hope you’right and that Panstarrs will get bright… I heard bad news a few days before, your post gives me hope for our public observation session again…

    And of course, we hope Ison will survive it’s solar fly-by… We up in the north want our McNaught too ! πŸ™‚

    Best regards from πŸ™‚

  3. Lynn

    Sorry for the late reply, but thanks Bob and Georgio for your nice comment and Philippe, I was so chuffed that I had seen and found Mercury, as me and my daughter was looking at the sky and she had asked me about it and I said I was sure it was Mercury but that I was going to ask you so it was all good in the end. Thanks everyone πŸ™‚

  4. Thank you for your news about this comet.I can’t wait to observe it, although i am in china.I translate this article into chinese in my website so that the people in china can be shared this good news.

    1. astrobob

      The comet is extremely close to the horizon in morning and evening twilight and visible only from the southern hemisphere right now. It’s moving through the constellation Grus right now.

  5. Hi Bob,
    First of all, Thanks for the website. It’s a site I often recommend to my students who are into Astronomy. As a retired science teacher who have seen Hyakutake, Hale-bopp and Kohoutek, I was curious about Comet Panstarrs after reading so much about it on the net. In a rush I began organising a star party for my students on the 9/10th & 16/17th of March, thinking we could all see it in Twilight. To my surprise ( after checking out Gary Kronk’s comet chart ), we at the Equator has little or no chance of viewung it at all …!!! With the dateline approaching, I wonder if you could help me confirm whether or not comet Panstarrs is visible at all and if so when? My location is in singapore and that’s about 1% N of the Equator. …Thanks in advance .

    James Moh.

    1. astrobob

      Hi James,
      Thanks for recommending the site. Very nice of you. I have good news about PANSTARRS. It will be visible from your location especially early on. By about the 18th, it drops and the sun interferes. You should see it shortly after sunset just fine. Watch especially for the 12th when the comet’s to the left of the thin crescent moon.

  6. Ho Bob,

    Thanks a million for the reply. It’s a relief to me and good news for my students and friends alike over here. Really appreciate what you have done in taking the time and effort just to check out for me. Will post some Pics if we all manage to get a snap of this Twilight comet. Thanks again for the kind gesture …Take care !!

    Regards …James Moh.

    1. astrobob

      I will very soon publish several charts – equatorial, s. U.S. and n. U.S. Hopefully these will help further.

  7. Hi Bob,

    That would be great !! Any simple chart will do for me as I will most likely print and photostat copied and distribute it to our local school’s science club and during the outing. Thanks again Bob…. Cheers !!!

    Regards … James Moh.

    1. astrobob

      No, PANSTARRS will no longer be visible in the southern hemisphere late in the month because its path takes it through the northern constellations.

    1. astrobob

      Yes, it should be visible right now very low in the western sky. Use binoculars to look just above the western horizon about 25 minutes after sunset.

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