The little comet that could: Pan-STARRS


The Pan-STARRS comet is streaking its way across the northern hemisphere and should be visible to unaided eye still. From the Department of Interior:

“Use binoculars if you have them. Start looking 30 minutes after sunset in the direction of sunset. Look low about 10 degrees above the horizon near the top edge of twilight. With your binoculars, you should be able to see the comet head with the tail pointed upward.”

It was photographed here in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on March 12:

Photo: Rick Jurgen
Photo: Rick Jurgen

Apparently, fierce solar heat breaks up a lot of comets. So when Comet Pan-STARRS dipped inside Mercury’s orbit, astronomers figured it would deteriorate from being so close to the sun, which at that distance at the time “loomed 3 times wider and felt more than 10 times hotter than it does on Earth.”

From NASA:

“The comet survived.

Still intact, Comet Pan-STARRS is emerging from the Sun’s glare into the sunset skies of the northern hemisphere. Solar heating has caused the comet to glow brighter than a first magnitude star. Bright twilight sharply reduces visibility, but it is still an easy target for binoculars and small telescopes 1 and 2 hours after sunset. As of March 15th, people are beginning to report that they can see the comet with the unaided eye.”

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