Right now, Comet PANSTARRS is putting on quite the show in the twilight sky. However, that is a surprising fact in itself considering that not only is the comet extremely close to the Sun, but that it just passed through a blast called a coronal mass ejection (CME).
In the video, one sees the comet being enveloped in a wave of energy erupting from the Sun. In the past, comets have been ravaged by CME impacts, with some losing their tails and others breaking up altogether. PANSTARRS? Its a survivor, having emerged totally unscathed and, according to some, brighter than in the past.
As for the comet itself, 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?
Since Daylight Savings Time has returned, the best time to look for Comet PANSTARRS is between 8:00 and 8:30pm, which is the narrow window if time where the sky is dark enough to see the comet before it sets. 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.
Looking to do some sky watching in the Cleveland area? As the last part of the puzzle, be sure to keep an eye on the Cleveland weather forecast and, for hour-by-hour cloud predictions, the Cleveland Clear Sky Clock if you plan to head out and look at the stars this coming week. Live somewhere else? Find a clock and see if it will be clear near you.
For more info:
Video explaining seasons
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