Fingernail Moon, Aurora Watch And Comet PANSTARRS Made Easy

The lunar crescent ascends the western sky over the next few nights dropping by two star clusters and one bright planet. The map shows the sky about an hour after sunset. Maps created with Stellarium

The moon has returned to sweeten the evening. Watch for a thin crescent low in the western sky tonight below the Seven Sisters star cluster. Tomorrow it moves upward, thickens a bit and shines near the V-shaped Hyades star cluster. Topping off the weekend, the crescent will stand just 2 degrees left of the planet Jupiter Sunday. If there ever was a gift that keeps on giving, it’s the moon.

To find PANSTARRS at dusk, use binoculars or a telescope and face northwest about 90 minutes after sunset. Look for the bright zigzag of Cassiopeia, point your instrument at the brightest star nearest the comet and “sta hop” in its direction. This map shows the sky 1 1/2 hours after sunset.

Time to catch Comet PANSTARRS … again. While it’s faded to near the naked eye limit, it’s still plainly visible in binoculars, particularly 7×50 or 10×50 models or larger. The comet is probably easier to find than ever because it’s passing through the bright W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia during the next two weeks. Look for it about 90 minutes after sunset in the northwestern sky. PANSTARRS has a brighter head topped by a faint, fan-shaped tail.

Face northeast about 90 minutes before sunrise and find the W of Cassiopeia. Use it to guide you to the comet.

While observers in the northern U.S., Canada and Europe will get equally good views at both dusk and dawn, sky watchers in the southern U.S. will have better luck at dawn when Cassiopeia is higher in the sky. The view through a telescope is still the best with the comet showing  a bright head and nucleus and a classic, gently-curving tail to the north.

Comet PANSTARRS with its amazing tail photographed on April 10 in Austria. Credit: Michael Jaeger

More good news. A strong solar flare erupted in sunspot group 1719 early Thursday morning April 11 sending sprays of solar protons and electrons in Earth’s direction. You know what that means.

The solar flare in sunspot group 1719 photographed in ultraviolet light by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory around 3:30 a.m. CDT April 11. Credit: NASA

Major storm levels and auroras are possible overnight tonight through Sunday the 14th. With little interference from the moon, this could be a good show. I’ll be keeping an eye on the space weather and send out an alert this evening if auroras sprout.


14 Responses

  1. Hoping we all get some clear skies…NWS and clear sky clock are saying Saturday night will give “partial clearing” over here at the NE section. Over by you clear sky clock says clear, but NWS says partly cloudy with a chance of frustration for both of us.
    Im gambling in favor of the clouds as it has been my luck every time for the past 12 years during moderate to severe auroral displays. I dont see an ice breaker on this one.

    1. astrobob

      I’m getting clear sky starting late Saturday. I’ll take anything at this point – it’s been overcast at night for a week. Not feeling good anyway as I’ve got a terrible cold, but I can still look out a window. Let us know if you see anything.

      1. I just caught a bad cold too, right after work Friday and this morning it feels like my head is going to explode.

        I’ll probably set up the fisheye outside the door, and have camera set on continuous while I try to mend myself.
        As far as snow, welcome to spring eh’!

        Hope you feel better!

        1. astrobob

          I really can appreciate that exploding head thing. I’ve been doing Ibuprofen to temper the pain. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend.

  2. Actually come to think of it, I had broken my foot last big display and was in such horrible pain, I stayed in the house and just looked at everyones pics on spaceweather.


  3. Edward M. Boll

    If we ever get clear skies again, I will take my 20 power binoculars out and look for it. The last view I had was April 1. It will be tough to see, even with binoculars after May 1. Then we can concentrate on Lemmon till mid May when we will need a telescope for that one too. Looking forward to Encke and ISON.

    1. astrobob

      I’m a big Encke fan having seen it at several apparitions, so it’s nice to know it’s returning to good view this year again. Another comet I always keep track and see virtually every year thanks to its frequent outbursts is 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1. Have you seen it?

      1. Edward M. Boll

        No, 29 usually does not get bright enough for me to get a for sure view of it. From 1986 on, I have purchased larger binoculars. I believe Panstaars makes my 18th comet to view, many of them in the early years I only had one view of each one until 1996.

  4. Thanks for the charts for PanSTARRS! Our club couldn’t see it last Saturday evening as the cirrus clouds screened it from us. Once it got dark enough, it and M32 were in the trees. I’ll try the am skies this week.
    I saw a lot of Duluth on the Weather Channel yesterday – you know you’re not going to have a good night for astronomy if you’re on the Weather Channel all day!
    Be well,

    1. astrobob

      You’re welcome Bob! I cannot wait for this snow to go. There’s nearly three feet of it still in my neighborhood from old and new storms with another 6 inches coming tomorrow.

  5. Edward M. Boll

    The last recorded observation of Panstaars I saw recorded put the comet at magnitude 6.0. This is fainter than I had hoped for or expected. If this is right, I may not be viewing it more than 2 more weeks. I was hoping to see Panstaars and Lemmon on the same day once.

    1. astrobob

      It looks like it may clear tonight. I’ll let you know how the comet looks from here is so.

  6. Jim Egstad

    Had my first look at the comet tonight thanks to you and your charts. The old Celestron C150 was made for this job and although hardly jawdropping it made for an interesting hour of observation. It’s been 30+ years since I last saw a comet through a telescope!

    Thank You!

    1. astrobob

      Glad the charts helped. 30 years? Wow, this is your lucky year then. You’ve got at least one more to look forward to. Actually, two, because Comet Encke will be visible this fall in your scope, too!

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