Have you seen spectacular Comet PANSTARRS yet? 2013 could very well be the year of the comet as several of these potentially spectacular visitors will be visiting Earth's skies this year. Despite having no potential to be brighter than the Full Moon (that's Comet ISON, which is due in November), Comet PANSTARRS, is stealing the headlines now as it is currently putting on quite a show. Unfortunately for some people, there are clouds blocking the sky. Fortunately, there are cameras, too.
So where to find pictures of Comet PANSTARRS?
Of all the -themed photo websites out there, Spaceweather.com is probably the best. Online since 2001, Spaceweather may be the premiere user-generated astronomy photo website on the whole Internet. Why? Spaceweather relies on its users to build its extensive photo galleries and people are happy to fulfill this request, submitting photos from all over the world. With nearly a decade of images, there are enough photos on Spaceweather to probably fill dozens upon dozens of hard drives.
As for the big event itself, Comet PANSTARRS was at perihelion, which is a fancy way of saying that it was at the point in its orbit closest to the Sun, this past weekend. So, with the comet being so close to the Sun it will be exposed to the greatest amount of heat, which will cause the icy comet to melt, brighten, and grow the distinctive cometary tail. Result: the comet is a sight to behold.
Just a month ago, PANSTARRS was still outside of naked eye visibility and behind previous brightness estimates. However, in the past two weeks, the comet has brightened to around zero magnitude, grown a tail, and become a relatively easy target for binocular (and even naked eye provided you have good eyesight) observation.
So, how does one go about seeing the comet?
To find the comet, go outside and look due West about 5 degrees above the horizon. For a comparison, hold three fingers out at arm's length to simulate 5 angular degrees. Another tip: if you have binoculars, use them to scan the sky and pick up the comet, then try and spot it with the naked eye.
As always, be sure to keep an eye on the weather. The good news: it only takes one short break in the clouds to catch a glimpse of the comet, so, even if things look iffy, go out and take a look and hopefully you can catch a lucky break, literally.
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Bodzash Photography & Astronomy