What the heck have comets L4 PANSTARRS and Lemmon been up to anyway? Well, they’re still visible in 50mm binoculars and small telescopes. You can see them both sans moonlight in the morning sky after moonset. PANSTARRS first shows at nightfall not far from the North Star Polaris, one reason why it’s easy to find.
Shining at around 8th magnitude it looks like a fuzzy spot in binoculars, a bigger fuzzy spot with a brighter head in a small scope and a twin-tailed wonder in large amateur telescopes. It sidles up the Little Dipper in the coming month passing near that constellations two brightest stars – Polaris and then Kochab (KO-kab). Moonlight will soon compromise evening viewing but morning skies are still dark just before dawn.
Michael Jaeger’s amazing photo shows how drastically different PANSTARRS looks compared to a month ago. The principle dust tail (off to the right and fanning left) so bright in March and early April has shrunk and faded. Meanwhile, the anti-tail, formed by dust trailing in the comet’s orbit, stretches at least a full binocular field of view to the left. PANSTARRS never ceases to amaze.
Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon has finally risen high enough before dawn to clear the horizon haze and treeline. At 7th magnitude, you can see in binoculars a more compact fuzzy spot than PANSTARRS; a telescope will show a faint, short tail to the southwest. Time exposure photos reveal a soft, rounded dust tail and long, skinny gas or ion tail.