'Hairy' Visitor: How to Observe Comet Panstarrs


In early February 2013, it was seen for the first time without optical aid from the Southern Hemisphere on its way north. Currently it is sitting in the constellation of Cetus and is heading north east taking it into Pisces and then on March 12, it will pass into Northern Hemisphere skies. It can easily be found on the night of 12th and 13th as it passes close by the crescent moon. By then it will have reached 1st magnitude and be easy to spot -- although, unfortunately, it will be moderately low over to the west at the onset of night.

By the 22nd, it will have moved up into Andromeda where a great photo opportunity exists on April 3 as it scoots close by the Andromeda galaxy -- although by then it will have faded to almost 5th magnitude making it visible only from dark sites.

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By the April 13, it will fade from naked eye visibility as it heads up into the constellation of Cassiopeia.

For anyone without a telescope but keen to spot this interplanetary visitor, then the nights of the 12th and 13th really are the best opportunity as the moon will be a great marker to its position.

Look for a faint fuzzy elongated blob of light! Binoculars will reveal its tail in a little more detail and would probably be my instrument of choice to see it in all its glory.

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The best view from a telescope will be gained if a low power eyepiece with a wide field of view is used, otherwise higher powers tend to 'zoom' in to close and lots of detail in the tail may be lost.

Bird watching telescopes are actually ideal for comet spotting so even if you don't have an astronomical telescope, its still worth taking a look with one of those. As for other hints and tips to spot Comet Panstarrs, I'm afraid its simply a case of waiting for clear skies and hope it performs as we expect it will.

But, if you miss it, you will have 110,000 years to wait for its next appearance.

Fortunately, an even brighter comet is hot on its heels: Comet ISON. But we'll have to wait until November for that one -- and there is no way you'll get my forecast for that one... not yet, at least.

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