Have any plans for tonight? No? How about catching a comet? 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 being pushed to the back burner by potentially brighter than the Full Moon Comet ISON (due in November), another, PANSTARRS, is putting on quite a show right now.
Today, Comet PANSTARRS will be at perihelion, which is a fancy way of saying that it will be at the point in its orbit closest to the Sun. 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 7:45 and 8:00pm, 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 comet 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.
As of this writing, things are looking decidedly iffy all week. 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. Live somewhere else? Find a clock and see if it will be clear near you.
Hit the 'subscribe' button for automatic email updates when I write something new!
Want even more? Check out my personal website:
Bodzash Photography & Astronomy