STEREO probe snaps portrait of Earth and Comet PANSTARRS

Comet PANSTARRS joins Mercury and our own planet in this photo taken by STEREO-B on March 10, 2013. Click for large version. Credit: NASA / courtesy Karl Battams

Wow, now isn’t that the coolest! The STEREO-B spacecraft took this photo of Comet C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS and two planets to boot on March 10. NASA’s dual STEREO sun-watching observatories are positioned in Earth’s orbit, one ahead of the planet and one behind. From these two locations they’re able to monitor both the front and backsides of the sun, something otherwise impossible to do from the ground. Their eyes also see background stars down to 13th magnitude, planets and the occasional comet like PANSTARRS.

Animation of photos taken by STEREO-B over an approximately 20 hour period on March 10, 2013. The vertical line below the comet’s head is an artifact. Credit: NASA

Look closely at the comet. Uncompromised by Earth’s atmosphere, we can see four tails.One of the two short spikes is electrified carbon monoxide gas carried away by the solar wind. The other might be made of iron atoms from the iron-sulfur mineral troilite (common in meteorites) blown back by sunlight itself. Two additional tails glow by sunlight reflecting off dust particles released from the comet’s ices as they’re vaporized by the heat of the sun.

Click HERE for maps to help you find Comet PANSTARRS –  from Earth – tonight.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

6 thoughts on “STEREO probe snaps portrait of Earth and Comet PANSTARRS

  1. Hi Bob,
    It looks like we will be getting our first chance at the comet tonight up here!
    Clear skies according to clear sky clock, partly cloudy according to NWS in NE Wisconsin.

    So far, the map for csc matches the clear sky prediction. Im stoked!
    Good luck tonight!

  2. Went to a dark place earlier this evening. It is freezing cold out here in belgium, coldest march since 1845. But the advantage is a bright clear sky. But disappointment : even with binoculars I did not manage to see the comet. The only thing I took home was froozen fingers.

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